Daily Archives: March 25, 2015

House Ways and Means at impasse

This afternoon, the House Ways and Means Committee was scheduled to discuss the health care bill. You know, the one with the two-tax solution: the .3% payroll tax and the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Well, it didn’t happen.

The committee took testimony in the morning. But after lunch, members did not reassemble. At one point, committee chair Janet Ancel entered the Ways and Means room; I asked her what the plan was.

I don’t have her exact words, but here’s the gist. They’d heard from all the witnesses, but the committee had stalled out on the two tax provisions. Neither tax would get majority support in the committee, if she held votes today. So, no votes.

No witnesses left. (She jokingly asked me if I’d like to testify.) And apparently she feels that more discussion or debate wouldn’t change any minds.

Welp, without those two tax provisions, there’ll hardly be any money for closing the Medicaid gap or any of the other improvements adopted by the House Health Care Committee.

Ancel had no idea what would happen next, or when it might happen.

Of course, either tax (or both) could be added back at a later point. But if Ways and Means can’t agree on a funding mechanism, it’s  certainly a discouraging sign for those of us hoping to redeem a few scraps of the lost promise of single payer health care.

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Is Adam Silverman an obnoxious little jerk, or does he just work for an obnoxious little newspaper?

Great Moments In Journalism, courtesy of the Great Journalist who recently Tweetblocked me. This is the first sentence — the first sentence, I kid you not — of an article posted on the Freeploid’s website.

The Burlington Free Press was first to report about the Dec. 10, 1971, disappearance of Lynne Schulze, an 18-year-old freshman at Middlebury College whose case recently has been linked to Robert Durst.

Jesus Christ on a cracker. Joseph Pulitzer spins in his grave. A.J. Liebling farts in your general direction. Charles Foster Kane gives a sly nod of approval.

If that isn’t the most shameless, blatant, tone-deaf example of self-promotion I’ve ever seen, I don’t know what is.

According to Silverman, the number-one fact you need to know isn’t the 44-year-old unsolved murder or the new revelations about the case. It’s the fact that the freakin’ Burlington Free Press “was first to report” Schulze’s disappearance, and God damn it, we deserve the credit!

On the other hand… the fact that the Addison Independent was the first to report the possible link between Schulze and Durst?

No, the Free Press doesn’t mention that.

Assholes.

Low-carbon sausage making

A resolution to put the Vermont Legislature on record as acknowledging the scientific fact of climate change stalled out this morning, amidst a thick procedural fog. All parties retreated to home base, in hopes of tweaking the language and moving the bill

"The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It's four elephants, and turtles all the way down!"

“The round-Earth theory is being promoted by profit-hungry travel companies. It’s a flat earth carried by four elephants, and then turtles all the way down!”

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony from four experts plus John McClaughry. The latter cast plenty of aspersions and did his best to sprinkle a pinch of doubt into the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and that We Humans are contributing to it.

He did say at least one true thing: “I’m not a climate scientist.”

Aside from that, he slammed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a political body mired in scandal; mocked climate modeling as a simple matter of picking a convenient endpoint, referred to “the extreme storm business” as a tool of profit-hungry corporations*, implied that resolution sponsor Brian Campion was a tool of VPIRG, and characterized climate change claims as “exaggerated beyond the bounds of ethical practice.”

*Since when does John McClaughry not believe in profit???

Gee, John, don’t hold back. It’s bad for your blood pressure.

As for the experts, Dr. Gillian Galford of UVM’s Gund Institute reported that 97% of the scientific literature agrees that “climate change is happening and is due to human actions.” She walked through several charts that showed the facts of climate change from the global level (everywhere on the planet EXCEPT the northeastern U.S. had an unusually warm winter) to the local (Joe’s Pond ice-outs are happening later and later).

Perhaps the most interesting testimony came from Jody Prescott, retired U.S. Army Colonel and adjunct prof at UVM. He called climate change a “threat trend” of significant concern to the military for its potential impact on global stability, and said that if we fail to address climate change, it “reduces our chances for military success.”

Which might not float your boat, but it’s a valuable perspective to hear.

The other witnesses were environmental activist and UVM freshman Gina Fiorile, and the puppet master himself, Paul Burns of VPIRG.

After the hearing, the committee spent about 45 minutes tossing the resolution around like a rag doll. Most of the objections came from Sworn Enemy Of Wind Power John Rodgers and wind skeptic Diane Snelling.

Frankly, my sense is that both of them don’t want to vote “yes” on the bill, but don’t want to vote “no” either.

Snelling offered a vaguely-couched but insistent objection to a clause acknowledging that Vermont has fallen short of its carbon reduction goals. Which, of course, it has.

Well, to be precise, our carbon production increased during the Nineties and early Aughts and then declined. We’re now roughly where we were in 1990. Which is nice, but our statutory goal was a 25% reduction. Oh well, another statute ignored.

Rodgers can’t see beyond his concern with the siting process. He won’t support a resolution encouraging more action toward carbon reduction if it might mean additional ridgeline wind in his pristine Northeast Kingdom. (I haven’t heard him object to Bill Stenger’s massive brace of EB-5 projects, but there you go.)

Rodgers wants energy projects to be subject to Act 250 — and more. He wants them sited “as near the end-users as can be.” Gee, I wonder how he feels about the massive energy imports we make from Hydro Quebec, currently our primary source of “renewable” energy — and about the likelihood that more transmission lines will be built if we don’t develop our own renewable sources.

Anyway, I’m not arguing that John Rodgers makes sense. I’m just reporting that he won’t support a nonbinding resolution unless it includes language about siting reform and a reliance on “Vermont-scale projects” or something like that.

What struck me is that very few sensible Vermonters are willing to overtly deny climate change. Almost everyone (except John McClaughry) will acknowledge that it’s a problem we need to address — but then they throw obstacles in the way. We don’t want to increase costs, we don’t want to imperil any unspoiled spaces or view sheds. We can’t do anything that’s not in the vaguely-defined Vermont Way. We’re too small to make a difference. In the end, it boils down to this: they see other things as bigger priorities than climate change. Which means they’re not serious about climate change.

Back to the resolution. Committee chair Chris Bray finally decided to table it with the intention of refining the language in time for a committee vote tomorrow (Thursday).

Afterward, Campion expressed surprise that his resolution sparked so much opposition. “I thought it was a slam dunk, and it wasn’t,” he said. “I don’t know how much I’m willing to bend, to be honest with you. I’m okay with a few tweaks, but if it were to change the intent, forget it.” He’d rather have a 3-2 or 4-1 vote on something like his original resolution than a unanimous vote for a watered-down version.

But if we have to fight this hard for a simple nonbinding resolution, how in hell are we ever going to effectively address the onrushing threat of climate change? Or, as Campion put it:

What’s been interesting [about serving on Natural Resources] is how much I’ve learned that we as Vermonters are not doing.  We pat ourselves on the back, beause we do some amazing things. But when you look at not meeting our carbon reduction goals, you look at Lake Champlain and other bodies of water, we still have a lot to do. We have a lot to accomplish, and we’ve got to be very serious and focused on it. 

Further reform initiatives for Vermont Republicans

On Monday, a diverse group of seven white male Republicans in blue suitcoats convened a news conference to announce their alternative budget plan, as previously discussed in this space.

Beyond their immediate, largely unworkable ideas for budget-cutting, they also promised a longer-term reform effort dubbed the “Plan for Prosperity,” in which working groups would come up with ways to lower the cost of government without reducing programs or services.

Isn’t that always the way. And yet somehow, when Republicans do get their hands on the levers of power, they never manage to identify those evanescent efficiencies.  They usually resort to meat cleaver tactics like the ever-popular across-the-board cut.

Indeed, the “Plan for Prosperity” is strongly reminiscent of the last Republican Governor’s big idea — Challenges for Change. Which ended in abject failure, with elected officials from both parties concluding that it wouldn’t generate much in the way of savings.

Yeah, “Plan for Prosperity”… “Challenges for Change.” Meet the new plan, same as the old plan?

Well, assuming that sooner or later the Republicans will abandon — or quietly deep-six — their new initiative, I have some suggestions for future iterations of the Same Old Song.

— Action for Achievement

— Surge for Success

— Effort for Efficacy

— Crusade for Cornucopia

Okay, let’s think outside the box a little bit.

— Mission for Milk and Honey

Too wimpy? How about…

— Blueprint for BOOM

Yeah, that’s the stuff. But my favorite, which manages to capture both the spirit and caliber of Republican reform efforts:

— Kwest for Kwality.

There you go, guys. That oughta hold you through the year 2030 or so. Maybe by then you’ll be able to scare up a woman or two for your news conferences.