Daily Archives: March 29, 2015

Lifestyles of the affluent and connected

Both halves of one of Vermont’s top power couples are on the move. Eric Miller is in line to be the next U.S. Attorney for Vermont, while loyal spouse Liz Miller just announced her exit from Governor Shumlin’s office, destination TBA.

Eric M. will presumably take a hefty pay cut in his move from principal at Sheehey, Furling & Behm to Humble Servant of the People. Liz is about to forego her six-figure salary as a H.S.O.P., but could presumably have her pick of lucrative jobs in lawyerin’, lobbyin’, or corporate fixin’.

In announcing her move, Liz M. said something that could be taken one of two ways:

Liz Miller said Thursday that the two moves are coincidental. But she said the timing was good for her to leave a grueling job as he prepares to begin one.

“It would be difficult on the bill-paying and the dog, if nothing else,” she said.

I’m pretty sure she meant “difficult on the bill-paying” as a simple statement of time management: if both of them are burning the midnight oil as H.S.O.P.s, who tends to the duties of home and hearth?

LizMillerOn the other hand, if she meant it’d be hard for a childless couple with Ivy League law degrees and a costly home on Lake Champlain, plus extensive experience and connections in Vermont’s corridors of power, to make ends meet… well, no sympathy here.

At risk of losing my License to Blog, I’m willing to accept the less silver-spoony interpretation. Although I will point out that, whatever job Liz Miller takes next, they could probably afford to hre a part-time secretary/dog walker. Hey, jobs for Vermonters.

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Peter Shumlin, Defender of Liberalism

So this is what we’ve come down to: as the House continues to slash away at health care reform, Governor Shumlin has become its stoutest defender.

Isn’t it ironic, don’tcha think. A little sad, too.

Here’s the situation: the House Health Care Committee originally came up with a $52 million package that would have greatly reduced the Medicaid gap, made health care more accessible to our growing cohort of working poor*, expanded proven measures to enhance delivery while holding down costs, and boosted incentives for badly-needed primary care providers.

*Thanks to our top-heavy economic recovery, which has produced stagnant wages and lots of jobs with unlivable wages while fattening the pockets of the wealthy and corporate.  

The Ways and Means Committee couldn’t agree on any tax scheme to pay for the $52 million — or even part of it. So the ball got bounced back to Health Care with a new diktat: devise a bill that will only cost $20 million a year.

The two committees remain at loggerheads, with each other and within their own ranks. Health Care can’t decide how to downsize its deftly-woven tapestry without the whole thing unraveling, and Ways and Means can’t reach consensus on a tax plan to produce $20 million.

Which almost certainly means the package will be further reduced before it even gets to the full House.

This is where Peter Shumlin, Defender of Liberalism comes in.

“I think that it’s really important that we make real progress here, and you’re not going to make real progress with $10 or $20 million,” the governor said in an interview Friday.

That interview was with the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami, who wrote a front-page story in today’s Times Argus about the developing tussle between cautious lawmakers and a determined governor. (The story is paywalled, but you can listen to the interview for free.)

Shumlin rightly points out that a modest health care package would leave “$100 million of federal [matching] money on the table,” and would reduce private insurance rates by closing the Medicaid gap. Penny wise and pound foolish, you might say.

Problem is, the legislature is in penny-pinching mode after approving a tax bill that will raise $33 million in new revenue. Well, that’s the next problem. The first problem is Ways and Means, which has just enough centrist votes to effectively roadblock any of the tax plans outlined by Shumlin or the Health Care Committee.

Hmmm. And who, pray tell, appointed the committee? Oh yeah: Mr. Speaker.

Ways and Means has eleven members. A bill needs at least six votes to pass. But wait, you might be saying, there are seven Democrats on the committee and only three Republicans.

Well yeah, but two of the Democrats are definitely in the party’s centrist wing. Jim Condon is one of the most conservative Dems in the legislature, and Sam Young is definitely a taxation skeptic. The lone independent, ski resort mogul Adam Greshin, might as well be a Republican.

That leaves five relatively liberal votes, and a tough task for committee chair Janet Ancel to find a majority for any tax proposal.

Problem is, the Governor is right: spending more up front would make the system more robust and effective, and bring down costs for private payers. It’d also bring in the aforementioned truckload of federal matching funds.

And oh yes, if you’re interested in the “humanity” angle, it’d make health care accessible to thousands more Vermonters.

Goswami reports that Shumlin “may have to turn his attention to the Senate if he is to rescue his own plans.”

Oh boy. The disorganized, testosterone-and-ego-fueled Senate, with the centrist Cerebus of John Campbell, Dick Mazza and Phil Scott guarding the portal.

Good luck with that, Governor.