Shumlin’s strategy is focused on 2015

The Shumlin Administration’s decision to shut down the Vermont Health Connect website drew the predictable response from his opponents.  “Catastrophic failure,” said Scott Milne. “I still think it’s going to be a disaster,” said Dan Feliciano. And VTGOP chair “Super Dave” Sunderland floated a conspiracy theory: VHC “will be shut down for repairs until after the election” (Italics mine), implying that Shumlin is trying to run out the clock and put off his Day of Reckoning until after he is safely re-elected.

Sorry, not buying it. The timing appears convenient, and Sunderland is well within his rights to make as much hay about it as he can. But the timing makes perfect sense in a non-conspiratorial way: Harry Chen came on board as Human Services Secretary a month ago. His top priorities were (1) trouble in the Department of Children and Families, and (2) review of VHC implementation. He’s had a month, and now he’s got a plan.

But even more importantly, the mid-November relaunch has far less to do with the election than with the open enrollment period. The VHC website has to be back online by November 15.  Repairs have to happen either before then, or after the enrollment period closes in February. It’s a lot easier to do repairs during a shutdown.

Besides, the truth is, Republican (and Libertarian) attacks are irrelevant. The Governor knows he’s going to win the election, and he doesn’t care what they say. His goal is the 2015 legislative session, when he will (finally) roll out his single-payer health care plan.

And in order to do that, he needs to have a functional VHC website. He can’t wait until February to start the repairs because that’s when he’ll be trying to convince lawmakers to vote for single-payer — and he can’t expect them to take that step if VHC is still dysfunctional.

The Governor does, to be sure, have a goal for the campaign: he has to activate the Dem/Prog base. He needs a decent margin of victory and, more crucially, he needs as many Dems and Progs in the Legislature as possible. As Vermont Pundit Emeritus Eric Davis points out, his worst enemy is an enthusiasm gap.

A fully-functional VHC website before Election Day would be the best thing for his base. But failing that, a robust response to its problems and an action plan with a completion date is second best. That’s what Shumlin has delivered. And, Republican snark notwithstanding, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the Administration will have very good news to report before Election Day. In fact, I expect to see a VHC relaunch on or about November 1.

That requires solid progress on the IT front, of course. But I’m sure that’s the plan.

Thanks to the organizational decrepitude of the VTGOP, the ineptitude of Scott Milne, and the fundamentally fringey nature of Dan Feliciano’s appeal, Shumlin doesn’t have to worry about re-election. He can’t say so, of course; but his goal is to activate his base and set the stage for the single-payer debate next year.

By that standard, the VHC shutdown is a short-term tactical setback, but it makes all the strategic sense in the world.

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