Vermont Republicans adopt the Fox News playbook

I don’t know what the hell has happened to Vermont Republicans. With a couple of exceptions (Phil Scott, Kevin Mullin), they seem to have gone batshit crazy.

And crazy in a very particular way. They have taken up the chief weaponry of national Republicans and the Fox News crowd by distilling a complicated issue to a single word.

The issue is health care and the word, of course, is GRUBER!!!!!!

Republicans have not been deterred in the last by Gov. Shumlin’s renegotiation of Gruber’s contract, cutting off further payments to Gruber and thus saving the state $120,000 — some of which will go to independent checking of Gruber’s work.

But it doesn’t matter, at least not to Republicans. They’ve decided “Gruber” is an all-purpose cudgel to attack Shumlin, the Democrats, and the cause of health care reform. Their entire health care focus is on Gruber.

It was only a couple weeks ago that the VTGOP had a big post-election news conference to call for repeal of Vermont Health Connect. We don’t hear that anymore; it’s all Gruber, all the time.

It’s the first time I can remember that virtually every notable Republican and conservative activist seems to be singing from the same hymnal. Kurt Wright sounds just like Rob Roper, and Heidi Scheuermann’s doing her best Darcie Johnston.

This fact hit home for me while reading Rep. Wright’s opinion piece in the Sunday Freeploid. Wright asserts that Gruber’s work on single-payer “will undermine the entire process and debate going forward.” When there’s no evidence that Gruber has done anything more than provide top-flight economic modeling. No matter; as ACORN allegedly poisoned the electoral process and Lois Lerner allegedly proved an Obama conspiracy against the right, the mere presence of Gruber fundamentally undercuts everything about single-payer.

So I guess, by Wright’s logic, we have to throw out all the work that’s been done on single-payer over the last three years and start over? Or is he arguing that by axing Gruber now, when the work is virtually complete, the entire process will be purified as if by cleansing flame?

Wright’s words are identical in meaning to Rob Roper’s. Over at his Koch-funded nonprofit, the Ethan Allen Institute, he claims that Gruber’s entire body of work is useless and cannot be used at all. And Darcie “Hack” Johnston, Tweeting out her policy stances, pronounes Gruber’s work is “tainted” and…

Just watch him, Darcie.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Benning is clearly intoxicated by his sudden Fox News fame, referring on his Facebook page to Gruber as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Which sounds disconcertingly like naked political opportunism. He goes on to brag that “FOX wants me back!”

Of course they want you back, Joe: you fit right in with their agenda. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

On another front, House Republicans have filed a public-records request for Gruber’s work for the state and for communications between Gruber and the Shumlin Administration, I’d applaud them for trying to learn the truth, but given all their public remarks, it seems more like a Darrell Issa-type fishing expedition. What they’re really hoping for is more Gruberisms.

And then there’s the proto-Republicans at Campaign for Vermont, still flogging their online petition calling for Gruber’s firing. Too bad that since Shumlin’s termination of payment, CFV’s petition has pretty much stalled out. As of this writing, it’s at 233 signatures, and it’s been in the low 200s for several days now.

This isn’t about the truth. It’s about using a handful of remarks by Jonathan Gruber to try to undermine the push for single-payer health care.

The weird thing about this is, we just went through an election that provided two object lessons (Phil Scott and Scott Milne) in how Republicans can win in Vermont: by presenting a moderate, inclusive image. Now they’re all foaming at the mouth as though the election never happened and “Angry Jack” Lindley is still running the joint.

They would be well advised to rein in their inflammatory rhetoric lest they alienate the very voters they just managed to attract.


6 thoughts on “Vermont Republicans adopt the Fox News playbook

  1. Sen. Joe Benning


    At the risk of further whipping up your ire, permit me to suggest your anger is misdirected. For instance:

    Re: “Republicans have not been deterred in the last [sic] by Gov. Shumlin’s renegotiation of Gruber’s contract, cutting off further payments to Gruber and thus saving the state $120,000.”

    Respectfully, I believe your statement above is flat out wrong. Mr. Gruber’s contract is a “personal services” contract, labeling Gruber himself as the sole contact person. To successfully “renegotiate” said contract, it expressly provides that any change must be in writing. At least as of this moment, after reviewing responses from the administration to a Freedom of Information Act request, no such writing exists. Lawrence Miller’s verbal statements notwithstanding, in my humble opinion we remain legally liable to Gruber until changes are reduced to writing and executed by both sides.

    Re: “there’s no evidence that Gruber has done anything more than provide top-flight economic modeling.”

    Actually, if you read his invoices (dated September 3rd and October 16th), it is impossible to know exactly WHAT he has done. Each invoice contains only three sentences. The first identifies the contract for which the invoice is submitted, followed by a comma and the words: “consulting and modeling on the Green Mountain Care proposal.” Is that part of the contract identification or is that what he’s claiming he did for work? The second sentence merely claims hours put in by him and unnamed “research assistants.” (This latter term is not defined in the contract; the Cost Schedule specifically requires payment only to Gruber and “Programmers.” It is impossible to tell from the contract whether “Programmers” and “research assistants” are one and the same.) The hours worked are followed by a payment demand. There are no named “research assistants” and no indication of how many were involved. There is no indication of what days they worked, how many hours per day they put in, or what they did for work during those hours.

    The hours he claims for both he and his unnamed “research assistants” are incredibly high for the short window of each billable period, and (oddly) precisely the same in each invoice. (The first invoice covers six weeks and bills 100 hours for him and 500 hours for his unnamed “research assistants.” The second covers only four weeks and also bills 100 hours for him and 500 hours for his unnamed “research assistants.”) Mind you, this is the same firm that is providing assistance to several other states at exactly the same time. (I submit this alone suggests an audit is warranted.)

    I know you are skeptical of any Republican’s motives when discussing Green Mountain Care, but doesn’t every Vermonter have a right to know what they are getting for their tax dollars? Given the national exposure of Gruber as someone willing to obfuscate numbers and policy language, shouldn’t all of our radars be up? Should we simply pay his bills blindly because he’s considered “top-flight,” when those bills don’t identify who exactly we are paying and what specific services they have rendered?

    As an attorney who charges clients by the hour, my clients have a right to know what I did during that time. My bills are broken into time segments with specific work performed for each moment of time. Over thirty years of practicing law, not one of my clients’ bills ever exceeded fifteen thousand dollars. By contrast, just Gruber’s current two invoices total two hundred thousand dollars. Your darn right Vermont Republicans have gone “bat-s**t crazy” over this. But chuck the party labels for a second and ask whether every Vermonter ought not be concerned. This man’s proposal will be the foundation for the largest piece of social engineering this State has ever attempted. Whatever he eventually proposes shouldn’t be clouded by distrust and mystery.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Of course we have a right to know what we’ve paid for. And if you and your buddies hadn’t already shown your hand by questioning the entirety of Gruber’s work — echoing the rhetoric of your national allies — and thus the underpinnings of single-payer, then I’d trust you to conduct an impartial review of whatever documents you uncover. As it is, I suspect the Republicans of digging for embarrassing quotes rather than making an informed judgment on the merits of the policy.

      Further, I suspect that your real hope isn’t that you get all the documents; it’s that either (1) the Governor rejects the request on the grounds of executive privilege, or (2) whatever he releases gives you grounds to claim that the release is incomplete so you can keep on hammering him.

      But you know me, I’m just a cynical blogger.

      1. Sen. Joe Benning

        Yes John, you are a cynical blogger, which is why I tend to enjoy your postings even when I’m your target. It keeps me questioning myself, and that’s never a bad thing.

        Contrary to your suspicions about my “real hope” in raising these issues, my sincere concern was to make sure this contract didn’t leave Vermont in a very bad position with a breach of contract argument. My job as Senate Minority Leader, as I see it, is to act like a criminal defense attorney, constantly challenging the case presented by the prosecutor. Although technically adversarial in nature, it doesn’t mean the parties have to be uncivil to each other. The vast majority of cases end up in a mutual plea agreement, which is what I like to see happen with legislation as well. (Allowing one side free reign over the other inevitably leads to a problem.) Even when contested, each side should remain civil and should be equipped with accurate information when presenting their case to an impartial trier of fact.

        In the instant case, it is hard to see how either side has accurate information. To date we’ve been arguing over abstract concepts. Benefit plans, total cost and payment schemes remain murky or completely unknown. Mr. Gruber has been retained to provide clarity, which bring us back to my concerns about his contract. The concerns I noted in the above response were also forwarded to Jeb Spaulding, Doug Hoffer and William Sorrell on the 23rd. And as you have sarcastically noted, I’ve had a couple of public appearances on the subject over the past week trying to keep up the pressure. The contract was finally amended officially just yesterday, the 25th. It doesn’t matter who or what motivated the parties to amend that contract. Looking back, I’m just happy they did and satisfied that I did my job.

        And I’ve happily reported to Jeb Spaulding that the amendment takes care of two of the concerns I noted above: making sure Gruber was legally terminated (as Lawrence Miller told us he was back on the 19th) and that we know that “Programmers” (the people we are legally obligated to pay pursuant to the contract) and “research assistants” are now defined as one and the same thing. From a legal perspective, it’s nice to know who you are legally obligated to pay.

        The remaining issue, which I understand Jeb is still looking into, is the substance of the invoices being submitted. As you yourself noted above, “of course we have a right to know what we’ve paid for.” If we do, then let’s make sure we get that information.

        I’ll use this reply spot to respond to Mr. Carpenter as well. Yes Walter, I call it “social engineering” when you scrap an existing system and replace it with another, especially with what this one might cost. I did not intend to use that term as a derogatory statement, which is the way you appear to have taken it. My apologies. We agree that universal access to reasonably priced health care, disconnecting it from employment and preventing medically-related bankruptcy are the objectives to be achieved. You can call it “system change” or whatever you like, but until we have a concrete proposal on the table to debate we are still arguing over abstract concepts. It’s been four years. I’m tired too. I’d like to see a plan we can debate, a plan that has been created in transparency so we can truly analyze its merits.

        The fog surrounding Mr. Gruber is disconcerting in a host of ways, and all of it is his own doing. In a courtroom, any judge would have called him into contempt for insulting Vermonters and his credibility has now been undermined. For that reason whatever numbers supporting the plan his firm now proposes should be exposed to the glaring sunlight of transparency. Failing to do so will only result in further finger pointing and suspicion. I’d like to let my kids know we can resolve this as thoughtful, deliberative adults.

        Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

  2. Walter Carpenter

    “This man’s proposal will be the foundation for the largest piece of social engineering this State has ever attempted. Whatever he eventually proposes shouldn’t be clouded by distrust and mystery.”

    Social engineering? How is single-payer social engineering? Do we have to engineer equality in health care? Do you object to every Vermont not having to worry about bankruptcy in medical care? Or should health care be just for the privileged who can afford it?

  3. Kelly Cummings

    What I find most telling Mr. Benning is that you and your fellow Republicans showed absolutely no interest in those invoices until the Gruber remark went viral.

    So to plead now your innocent motivations of looking out for Vermonter’s best interests rings very very hollow. Bong. Bong. Bong.


  4. gyrfalcon7

    Kelly, you took the words right out of my mouth.

    And then there’s this from Sen. Benning’s diatribe, “national exposure of Gruber as someone willing to obfuscate numbers ” Really? Like what? What numbers has Gruber obfuscated?

    Jonathan Gruber has overnight become the new Susan Rice, and the railing against him is pure political noise. I’ve noticed no substantive complaints about his work, only the regularly ginned-up GOP “outrage” over something impolitic he said.

    Yes, government contracting generally stinks and needs some reform, for sure. But Gruber happens to be nearly the sole working expert in health care economics available to do this kind of work, and under the free market system the GOP particularly worships, he can pretty much charge what he wants. Is it an outrageous amount of money? Probably, if you think of him as just another contractor. Probably not if you want to design a brand-new system we have no experience with in this country that has a chance of working financially and economically, one that will ultimately involve billions of dollars of public and citizens’ dollars..

    Same goes, unfortunately, for CGI, which is/was one of the very few firms willing and ostensibly able to tackle constructing health insurance exchanges. With a market that has so few players, what other choices do you have?


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