San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom warned on Friday that local governments throughout the country would find themselves bankrupt if the current health care crisis is allowed to continue. .
In an interview with the Huffington Post, the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate also urged the White House to simplify its health care message, and warned Congress that further delays could be politically fatal.
"There is a growing concern with what is happening and what is not happening," Newsom said. "There is a concern about this being delayed past the recess and what that means.... All of us are experiencing state budget cuts. And the fact is when the president talks about the status quo impacting our budgets, he talks about it on the federal level. But at the end of the day it is the local budgets being impacted."
This Congress has "gotten farther than any other Congress ever has," he added. " They are so close. We cannot afford to make a 90-yard dash and then not finish. We are just concerned that if they do go on recess [without getting bills passed in each chamber] that all of that will be lost. It just emboldens the opposition. And it is much easier to oppose something than to support something."
Newsom, who is taking a leading role among mayors in pushing for the president's reform agenda, made his remarks just minutes after he participated in a phone conference with dozens of other mayors from across the country along with representatives from the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office. Over 100 mayors, Republicans and Democrats alike, launched a national campaign on Friday in support of Obama's health care reform effort -- including a public option for insurance coverage. As a template for their effort, he cited the work done by the U.S. Conference of Mayors in combating climate change after the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol agreement.
"Right now, there are more voices of opposition than support that we are hearing out there," he said. "And I think that there are thousands of mayors that literally can't afford this thing dragging out."
The call with the White House and the Speaker's office, Newsom said, was generally bullish on health care reform's prospects. But even he, an erstwhile supporter of the administration, wasn't without critiques of the president's approach to getting legislation passed.
"I am immensely approving of what the president is doing and I am extraordinarily impressed with his knowledge of the issue," Newsom said. "But sometime you listen to him and the average person... comes away a little confused because this is very complicated," he said. "And I think in order to sell that to a broader audience we do need to simplify the message in terms of what it does and how we pay for it."
The effort being launched by Newsom and his colleagues is, in part, aimed at simplifying and localizing the debate for the White House. As chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Health Care Reform Task Force, Newsom is urging other mayors to introduce resolutions in their city councils to support the administration's health care reform principles. He also called for an increased grassroots efforts -- including rallies, op-eds, and town halls -- focused on passing health care legislation in the weeks and potentially months ahead.
The goal, he said, was to put local pressure on national officials. But for a case study, Newsom didn't need to look further than his own state. Senator Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., remains non-committal on a public option for insurance coverage, something both Newsom and the White House vehemently support. Asked whether he would push his fellow California Democrat and potential gubernatorial opponent in the weeks ahead, Newsom noted that San Francisco -- where Feinstein herself was once mayor -- currently "has the only public option in America" and a successful one at that. "Nearly 75 percent of our previously uninsured residents are now in the program," he said.
"We are still counting on [Feinstein's] support," Newsom said, "and I have confidence she will"