Daily Archives: November 17, 2014

Here’s a pleasant surprise

I didn’t think the Governor had it in him, especially in the wake of his Election Night smackdown. But he’s not giving in to the Pitchfork Brigade’s call for the head of Jonathan Gruber. Neal Goswami of the Mitchell Family Organ:

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that a state contractor under fire for derisive comments he has made about American voters and a Vermont commentator will not have his state contract terminated despite calls to do so by Republicans.

Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, has a personal services contract with Vermont that will pay him up to $400,000 to test economic models related to Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal, often referred to as a single payer system.

The Governor’s stand does come with strings: He will not exercise an option to extend Gruber’s contract beyond its expiration in Februiary. And he did his best to dump all over the contrator whose economic model is too valuable to do without:

…”for me it’s not just what he said, it’s that he actually thinks this stuff. It’s not the way we do things in Vermont.”

Shumlin was also careful to delineate between Gruber the technocrat and Gruber the policy advisor:

“It’s our plan, not his. It’s our policy, it’s our hope for the future and it’s our plan. We’ve used him as a calculator not a policy advisor,” Shumlin said.

Okay, fair enough. Keep him on, and do what you must to distance yourself from his arrogance. Much better than to give in to the howling mob.

We have all failed Bruce Lisman

Our favorite Wall Street panjandrum turned everyman policy expert knows what the 2014 election was all about: it was about our collective failure to heed the wisdom of Bruce Lisman.

And he’s mad as hell about it.

We’ve just re-elected a government that has made bad ideas, bad management, and bad leadership seem ordinary.

… We want [our leaders] to take seriously the embedded philosophy of Vermont that would offer a helping hand or a comforting hand to those in need but balanced with those other great Vermont characteristics, frugality and commonsense.

The latter phrase taken, word for word, from previous Lisman bumpf. The rest of the column is of a piece: the lesson of this election is that Bruce Lisman is right and everybody else (especially the Democrats who, as a figleaf of nonpartisanship, are not identified as such) is wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Hide your children. good people; he's searching for skin again.

Hide your children. good people; he’s searching for skin again.

What is it with you people, failing to heed the words of Bruce Almighty?

The rest of the column is more of the same, except there’s a new edge to Bruce’s tone. He’s getting angry. And he’s moving to the right. Sounding more and more like John McClaughry, in fact.

The (unnamed) Democrats’ policies? “bad ideas executed badly,” “a special hell for Vermonters.”

Democrats’ ideas for school spending and organization: “like someone breaking your leg and then offering you a crutch.”

“Our leaders… make decisions blindly.”

Vermont Health Connect? “a catastrophe of major proportion.” Too bad, Bruce: you wrote those words before the successful relaunch of Vermont Health Connect.

But you look at Lisman’s laundry list, and you wonder how in hell the Democrats got a single vote, let alone a sizeable majority.

Which maybe is why Bruce has a bug up his butt. The people of Vermont are eschewing his wise counsel.

Well, okay then. But riddle me this, Lisman: if you felt so strongly about all this, why did you almost entirely sit out the 2014 election? We barely heard from you. We never saw you alongside Scott Milne or Phil Scott or your Campaign for Vermont colleague Heidi Scheuermann.

Now that I think of it, last time we heard from Bruce, he was torpedoing Scheuermann’s nascent gubernatorial bid with some poorly-timed and pointless musings of his own. After that, a conspicuous absence of Lisman.

The man’s policy insights may be arguable, but his political acumen is not: he has none. I wrote about this on Green Mountain Daily in May, but his post-election rage makes it freshly relevant.

Bruce Lisman could have made a substantial difference in the election. All he had to do was drop the mask of nonpartisanship and openly declare himself an ally of Phil Scott and company. He could have helped bankroll the party and a real live gubernatorial candidate. Say, Heidi Scheuermann.

His active backing would have helped the VTGOP recruit candidates. Its failure to field anything like a full slate limited its ability to gain seats in the legislature.

Is his increasingly-tattered nonpartisan image that important to him? When his rhetoric is in the same ballpark as conservative Republicans’, who does he think he’s fooling? Just because he doesn’t say “Democrat” or “Shumlin” doesn’t make it any less obvious.

If Lisman felt this strongly about the direction of Vermont, he could have done something about it. He chose not to, by all visible evidence. So whose fault is it that Vermont failed to heed his (inaudible) warning?

Grubermania: Catch it!

Well, Vermont conservatives finally have a live one: a get-your-blood-boiling, wave-the-bloody-shirt phony “issue” of the kind that rarely presents itself in our green and pleasant land. And boy howdy, are they ever jumping on the outrage train.

Critics of the Shumlin administration are demanding the dismissal of a state consultant whose remarks about the Affordable Care Act last week went viral on Twitter and was picked up by major news outlets…

The target, of course, is Jonathan Gruber, health care expert and creator of the best economic model for health care systems. And utterer of some completely charmless comments on a handful of occasions over the past few years.

Just think, in this age of digital media, how many Young Conservatives are being gainfully employed searching through endless hours of Gruber’s public appearances, trying to locate bits of marketable outrage. Gruber’s been a high-profile figure in health care reform for many years; because of the unique usefulness of his model, he’s been hired by the feds and a whole bunch of states. He’s given testimony, he’s given speeches, he’s been on countless panels.

But never mind the inherent unfairness of tearing a man’s reputation to shreds over a few words. We’ve got some rabble-rousing to do! And our junior-league rabble-rousers are in full force: Rob Roper, Darcie Johnston*, and oh wait — here’s a new entrant to the Pitchfork Brigade: the previously cool-headed, plausibly nonpartisan Campaign for Vermont!

*And again I say, why in hell is anybody listening to Darcie Johnston after the faceplant of the Dan Feliciano campaign added another chapter to her Little Book of Failure?

Between this and CFV moneybags Bruce Lisman’s recent mouth-foamer of an opinion piece (about which more in an upcoming post), it looks like CFV is finally shedding its chrysalis of nonpartisanship and emerging as the Butterfly of Fiscal Conservatism we all suspected was in there all along.

All this Grubermania has a purpose: to toss a can of nails in the Road to Single-Payer, as VTDigger’s Anne Galloway reports:

Gov. Peter Shumlin… is moving ahead with his signature single payer health care initiative. Gruber’s work is crucial to that effort.

“Crucial” because Shumlin has to show that single-payer won’t hurt the state’s economy. Gruber’s model is by far the best tool for the job.

No Gruber, no model. And Shumlin’s task gets a little bit harder.

Now let’s see what kind of cojones the Administration has. WIll they stand by their guy in the face of grossly exaggerated attacks? Or will they toss him off the dogsled in hopes of distracting the wolves?

Based on past experience, I hope Gruber is packin’ a Bowie knife. After all, one of the great saints of Vermont liberalism, Peter Welch, fell for a similar outrage over alleged malfeasance at ACORN. Welch, you may recall, played a small and ignominious role in ACORN’s termination. Sadly, I expect nothing better of Governor Shumlin.

Time to change the subject

Huh. Day One of Vermont Health Connect 2.0 passed uneventfully, the website performing as expected with only “minor issues” that were resolved immediately.

“It was a nice, boring morning,” [chief of health care reform Lawrence] Miller said. “And that’s what we look for.”

Cool beans.

Of course, unlike last year, the site wasn’t overwhelmed by hordes of eager applicants. According to the Mitchell Family Organ, the site processed 80 new applications and 401 renewals. A nice number, but not a flood. And, we should note, some of the website’s functions are off line until after the open enrollment period ends.

So, baby steps. But so far, so good.

And as long as things are going well, we can safely ignore Republicans’ call to tear the whole thing down and join the federal exchange, complete with its lower subsidies and possible dismantling by the Supreme Court.

And now that things are looking up for VHC, must be time for Republicans to change the subject.

Oh, here we go.

A video from Vermont shows Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber mocking a Vermonter who expressed concern about single-payer health care.

That’s better. It’s getting harder to challenge Obamacare and Shummycare on policy grounds, so let’s demonize somebody!

And filling the role, in the fine tradition of Hillary Clinton and Valerie Plame and Lois Lerner and Eric Holder and Hillary Clinton again and the hordes of illegal gangbanging youth swarming our borders (remember them?), not to mention Demon Number One, President Obama himself, is Jonathan Gruber, “architect” of Obamacare.

Let’s posit first of all that Gruber seems to be an arrogant ivory-tower type with no conception of how his ill-considered words sound in the wider world. To judge by the carefully-selected words spoken on a handful of videos trumpeted by the right, Jonathan Gruber is a proper asshole.


To call Gruber the “architect” of health care reform is quite a stretch. His primary contribution was the development of an economic model that allowed the testing and comparison of possible reform measures. And from what I’ve read, the Gruber model is uniquely accurate. It’s a valuable tool, and Gruber’s been well compensated for its development and use. He’s been employed by the federal government and the Shumlin Administration (and by a whole bunch of other states) to use his model and consult on details of reform programs.

But he is not the architect of anything. Not in Washington, and not in Montpelier. He did not create the system; he was one among many. And he had nothing to do with the political strategy that led to its enactment, which makes his views on political strategy irrelevant.

You could call him the Ted Williams of health care reform. He’s a terrific power hitter. But he is not the manager or general manager, much less the owner. His thoughtless and arrogant remarks are no more relevant to health care reform than Ted Williams’ famous battles with the press were to his performance at the plate.

Convenient, isn’t it? Just when VHC is getting off the ground and Obamacare is starting its second round of successful enrollments, opponents of health care reform have “discovered” comments made by Gruber two and three years ago.

The video cited above was recorded in 2011 by the conservative website True North Reports.

And now — more than three years later — it’s the outrage du jour? How convenient.

The video’s existence was reported by Vermont’s own version of James O’Keefe, the Koch-funded Bruce Parker at Vermont Watchdog. His story was reposted by True North Reports — without comment on why a three-year-old video that True North Reports itself produced should be considered hot news today. What has TNR been doing with this video for the past three years?

By the way, the Vermonter who was mocked by Gruber in 2011?

El Jefe General John McClaughry.

As Gruber sits listening, the committee chair reads a comment from a Vermonter who expresses concern that the economist’s plan might lead to “ballooning costs, increased taxes and bureaucratic outrages,” among other things.

After hearing the Vermonter’s worries, Gruber responds, “Was this written by my adolescent children by any chance?”

El Jefe is shocked, shocked that Gruber would say such a thing. Although he’s certainly been called worse. And I myself have occasionally wondered if El Jefe’s opinion pieces might have been written in crayon.

In this particular case, McClaughry’s thunderings were so exaggerated, so over the top, that they invited mockery. And Gruber, unwisely, took the bait.

So now the Shumlin Administration is under pressure to take their irritable, impolitic slugger out of the lineup because he acted like a jerk.

Three years ago.

If you ask me, the Republicans are desperately changing the subject. They’re running out of time to undercut health care reform on its merits, so they’re demonizing one of its leading academics.

And, if you ask me, Jonathan Gruber’s remarks have no relevance to the merits of health care reform. None at all.