Sanity and common sense, rare attributes, indeed, in Sacramento, made something of a comeback Monday when the Senate Health Committee rejected the sweeping plan cobbled together by Gov. Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez to mandate that all Californians get health insurance or get subsidized. The vote was an overwhelming bipartisan rejection, 7-1, with three members of the committee not voting.

It's not often that the state Legislature can resist the temptation to offer what appears to be something for nothing to voters. In this case, however, it finally sank in that passing a bill with a theoretical price tag of $14.9 billion at a time when the state is facing a deficit in the same range and the governor has just declared a fiscal crisis might not be the most prudent course possible. It probably made a difference that Elizabeth Hill of the nonpartisan and highly respected Legislative Analyst's Office had issued a report saying the plan would run out of money if it didn't work exactly as intended.

Hardly any new plan, especially a government plan, works exactly as intended. The law of unintended consequences almost always comes into play, and government plans almost always cost more than the original estimate, both because sponsors low-ball the estimates going in and because of the inherent inefficiency of an institution that doesn't have a bottom-line financial discipline.

California's legislators might also have been further reminded of that fact by news that the Massachusetts health insurance mandate (which former Gov. Romney alternately embraces or runs from on the campaign trail) will cost $400 million more than expected in 2008, the cost to be borne by the state's taxpayers.

Whatever factors played into the Senate committee's decision, it was heartening to have Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who has in the past proposed having the state government take over the role of providing health insurance and chairs the health committee, say "[i]t doesn't matter if there are good things in the bill if there isn't the money to pay for them." Who would have expected such common sense from the redoubtable Ms. Kuehl?

Gov. Schwarzenegger and the Legislature should look to loosening restrictions (as on health clinics in big-box stores), health savings accounts, making health insurance deductible for individuals as well as businesses, and eliminating mandates so insurers can offer bare-bones policies as well as gold-plated plans. Moving toward a more free-market approach rather than heavier government involvement just might move us toward the objective of having affordable health care available to more people more quickly.