Adam Reilly / WGBH / March 23, 2022
As Gov. Charlie Baker pushes an ambitious healthcare-reform agenda in his final year in office, the other members of Beacon Hill’s so-called “Big Three” seem to be viewing the messaging attached to his efforts with some bemusement.
In a State House News Service interview with House Speaker Ron Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka, host Katie Lannan asked about remarks Baker made at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. The governor had vowed to “fight like mad” for legislation that would force insurers to allocate more funding for primary and behavioral care — and said that, if former House Speaker Robert DeLeo and former House Ways and Means chair Brian Dempsey were still in those roles, passage in the House would be assured.
“I think it’s pretty funny that he says he’s going to fight like hell for something that both the speaker and I feel passionately about,” Spilka said. “And in the governor’s bill he has borrowed some of the policies that the Senate has acted on already … in terms of mental-health parity [and] accessibility of services.”
After adding that the governor’s remarks left her optimistic about meaningful healthcare reform being passed this session, Spilka directed one more tweak at Baker.
“I am looking forward to it,” she said. “Not certain the governor will need to put up his dukes for anything in particular here.”
In response to Baker, Mariano paraphrased former Celtics coach Rick Pitino’s legendary homage to bygone greats after a home loss two decades ago.
“To quote Rick Pitino, when he was the coach of the Boston Celtics: Bob DeLeo isn’t walking through that door, and neither is Brian Dempsey,” he said. “So I don’t know what the governor thinks is going to happen.
“I certainly, having been involved in healthcare for an awful long time, am going to take a hard look at what the governor proposes,” Mariano continued. “A lot of the things he proposed, he proposed four years ago, so there’s not a lot of new things here. But I do think there are some things that have some merit. How they fit into what I see trying to get done is another question.”
Spilka and Mariano repeatedly characterized their working relationship as strong, with Mariano saying at one point that Spilka provided invaluable emotional support when he was still new in the job.
“There were many times, and I will admit this now, that there were some desperate phone calls to the Senate President to see how she would handle the situation that I was experiencing at that time,” Mariano recalled. “And the advice, and the calming effect she had … commiserating with me as we puzzled through my dilemmas was a big help.”
The pair identified several areas in which they expect productive collaboration as the year progresses, including mental-health coverage, prescription-drug reform and bolstering Massachusetts’ nascent wind industry.
Traditionally, the Senate has been the more politically progressive of the two bodies, with the House regarded as more conservative and reflexively aligned with business interests. But toward the end of their conversation, in comments about legislation aimed at reforming early-childhood education and care, Mariano signaled that stereotype may no longer apply.
“Since I’ve taken this job, I’ve talked to a lot of different people, and a lot of business-community folks are complaining — I shouldn’t say whining, that’s a pejorative term — but are complaining about the lack of opportunity to hire folks, and people not returning to the workforce,” he said.
“I think a lot of that is tied directly to the problems we see in our early-childhood-education and our daycare system, and an inability to pay wages and get people to afford a daycare that is financially feasible for them as they come back to work,” Mariano added. “When you’re paying three quarters of your salary for daycare, it doesn’t make much sense to go back to work. So we need the businesspeople who have been complaining … to understand that this is connected, and that they need to step up and help.”
However, Mariano also lamented what he described as intransigence from some progressive advocates.
“This is a collaboration business,” Mariano said. “It’s a business [where] you get results when you listen to people and you work with people. And somehow, [some progressives have] taken an adversarial position where if we don’t get everything, then you’re all no good. If you disagree with us, there’s something wrong with you. And that’s been a real disappointment to me in my time up here.”