Tag Archives: single-payer health care

The race for governor will offer a stark contrast

This year’s election will trigger a turnover at the top perhaps unprecedented in Vermont history. A new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and new heads of the House and Senate will all be in place by next January. And heading into the campaign, Vermont’s two major parties are offering completely different visions of the state of our state and the mood of its people.

Republicans see Vermonters as tired of high taxes, government intrusion, and the restless reformism (as they see it) of the Shumlin administration.

You’d expect Democrats to be treading cautiously. They are in the tightrope position of simultaneously defending their tenure in power, and crafting a distinctive profile going forward. Not to mention its persistently strong incrementalist tendencies.

However. Driven by Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming success in our primary, the party is moving leftward. There is a sense that Vermonters are ready for even more decisive change, even more government, a more aggressive push to lift up the downtrodden and blunt the sharp edges of capitalism.

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The Progs demur

The Progressive Party’s State Committee met on Saturday, and decided to stay out of the race for governor. Which strikes me as a small but measurable setback for Peter Galbraith, the self-described progressive choice.

As reported by Seven Days’ Terri Hallenbeck, the Committee did endorse Sen. David Zuckerman for lieutenant governor and the re-election bid of Auditor Doug Hoffer. No surprises there.

But the Committee opted not to endorse any of the three Dems running for governor, even though Galbraith, Sue Minter, and Matt Dunne each addressed the gathering in hopes of earning the nod. There were two major factors in the non-decision, party chair Emma Mulvaney-Stanak told me.

First, the Progs’ 2010 decision to stay out of the gubernatorial race in hopes that Peter Shumlin would deliver on single-payer health care and other key issues. “That left a very bad taste in Progressives’ mouths,” she said, and little enthusiasm for supporting a Democrat.

And second, the Democratic candidates failed to inspire the Committee. “None brought a Progressive ‘wow factor,’” she explained.

Their presentations were pretty similar. They didn’t exactly make a strong case for why the Progressive Party should endorse them. They seemed unwilling to go beyond what the Democratic establishment supports

All three have tried to wrap themselves in the Bernie Sanders mantle. But Galbraith more insistently than the other two. Was Mulvaney-Stanak surprised that Galbraith didn’t impress?

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The Governor prepares a soft landing

Is Peter Shumlin starting to act like a lame duck? It would seem so. To judge by this week’s paltry trinkle of news, he looks to have one eye fixed on the past and the other on his post-gubernatorial future. And he’s already given up on fixing one major debit in his administrative ledger.

As VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, Shumlin opposes any tax increases to pay for Vermont’s burgeoning Medicaid bill, but he doesn’t want to cut eligibility or benefits either. In fact, he’s washing his hands of the whole mess.

“I don’t know which governor is going to get to solve this problem,” he added. “But I hope a governor gets to solve it soon.”

“…once I’m safely ensconced in the private sector with my lissome new bride,” he might have added under his breath.

Yeah, screw the 2016 session. The Governor, you see, proposed a Medicaid fix last year and the Legislature ungratefully rejected it. So he’s done his duty, and hereby washes his hands of the matter.

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Bizarro Dave

I’m writing an awful lot about David Sunderland lately, but then he’s been doing a lot of dumb stuff lately. And this tidbit is the cherry on his hacktastic sundae.

The Vermont Press Bureau’s Josh O’Gorman did a writeup of the VTGOP chair’s latest stunt — the anti-carbon tax website, which seeks to blame Democrats for something that’s not going to happen.

And deep within the article, I discovered the source of Sunderland’s difficulty with facts.

David Sunderland (not exactly as illustrated)

David Sunderland (not exactly as illustrated)

He appears to live in an alternate dimension, with a parallel but very different set of events. Look:

Sunderland said he believes a carbon tax could be in the cards come January.

“It’s possible this will happen,” Sunderland said. “If you look to the past, nobody in million years would have ever thought we would enact state-run, single-payer health care, but it happened.”

Whaaaaaat?

Vermont has a state-run, single-payer health care system?

How did I miss that?

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The Progressives are kinda screwed

Whiter the Progressive Party? I don’t know; there isn’t a clear path forward, and obstacles litter the landscape. They’ve gained strength in the legislature, mainly by running candidates on the P/D or D/P tickets; but they’ve just about reached the limits of that tactic, and may have hit a glass ceiling.

The Progs are anxious to make a splash in 2016, having sat out the last three gubernatorial elections in order to give Peter Shumlin a better shot at creating a single-payer health care system, hahaha. His abandonment of that goal, barely a month after his third re-election victory, plus the Dems’ habit of triangulating to the center on a host of issues, has left the Progs in a bitter mood. They’re itchin’ for a fight, and would especially like to field a credible candidate for governor.

That’s looking increasingly unrealistic. For starters, nobody seems to want to run.

This is an unintended side-effect of the Prog/Dem strategy, which has put several Progs in positions of legislative influence. Examples: Tim Ashe chairs the Senate Finance Committee; Anthony Pollina has a bully pulpit in the Senate; organic farmer David Zuckerman is vice chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; and Chris Pearson is vice chair of the House Health Care Committee. One could argue that the Progs have been granted more influence than their sheer numbers would warrant. Or, in the words of Lyndon Johnson, the Democrats saw it’s better to have the Progs inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.

And indeed, it’d be hard to give up that level of influence to make a long-odds, short-funded bid for higher office.

Compounding the difficulty is that any high-profile Progressive would likely depend on public financing. That was a difficult enough pursuit in previous years (just ask Dean Corren or John Bauer). Now, it seems to have become completely untenable.

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Okay, so that happened.

Surprise, surprise: Peter Shumlin won’t run for re-election next year.

Many more thoughts to come, but here’s the instant reaction.

It’s the right move, but I wasn’t sure he was capable of making it. He would have had a very, very tough time winning back the voters next year. If he’d managed to right the ship on Vermont Health Connect, and if this year’s legislation had begun to make a difference, he would have had a shot at winning a fourth term. Even so, it’d be an uphill battle.

I say “I wasn’t sure he was capable of making it” because it’s awfully hard for a politician to leave the game, and it’s hard for a politician as accomplished as Shumlin to leave with the Scott Milne embarrassment as his last electoral act. In stepping aside, Peter Shumlin shows a wisdom and perspective that many didn’t think he had.

His image was worse than the actual person. This decision shows that there’s an authentic Peter Shumlin that doesn’t measure life by political wins and losses. He has no interest in a political future; he plans to leave his East Montpelier manse and return to Putney. I expect he will do that. And though he’ll certainly continue to have a public life, I think he’ll be true to his word: no more campaigns, no more full-time public service.

— He’s waved the white flag on single payer health care. In his speech, he mentioned health care reform as the one area of failure for his administration. If he thought he could resurrect single payer between now and 2018, he might well have run for re-election.

— This gives the Democratic Party a clean slate. Without Shumlin on the ticket, it could be a very good year for the Democrats; it’s a Presidential year with either Hillary Clinton or (haha) Bernie Sanders atop the ballot, and Pat Leahy presumably running for re-election. We should have a substantial and very Democratic turnout. Sad to say, but Shumlin would have been a net negative.

— This is bad news for the VTGOP. They won’t face a wounded incumbent with a long track record and personal unpopularity; they’ll face a candidate with substantial experience (see below) and with a full 18 months to fundraise and put together a top-notch campaign. And even if there’s a spirited Democratic primary, 2010 has shown that that isn’t a bad thing.

— The Republicans really blew it in 2014. If they’d run a real candidate, they would have won the corner office. If Phil Scott has any real ambitions to be Governor, he’s gotta be kicking himself right now.

— The Democrats have an incredibly deep talent pool. I could name you half a dozen eminently qualified candidates without any trouble. There’s been a logjam at the top for quite a while, what with our extremely senior Congressional delegation and our very capable statewide officeholders (well, Pearce, Hoffer, and Condos anyway — three out of four ain’t bad) and our sclerotic state senate. By contrast, of course, the Republicans’ talent pool is more of a puddle, aside from Phil Scott.

Early favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination? House Speaker Shap Smith. If he can get the Democratic caucus behind him, he’d have a big advantage at the grassroots level and he’d be very, very tough to beat. And he did a great job during this year’s legislative session of threading a very narrow needle, being an honest broker, and subtly creating a political persona of his own.

More thoughts to come, I’m sure. I welcome your comments below.

Single-payer price tag: the dollars matter less than what they bought

Another fine “Fair Game” column by Seven Days politimeister Paul Heintz, most of which is an attempt to put a price tag on Gov. Shumlin’s failed pursuit of single-payer health care.

The takeaway number: $2 million. But that comes with some major cutouts; if you changed the ground rules, you could come up with a much higher number.

Heintz sought that number for ten weeks before the administration finally came up with it. And after all that time, all they did was add up two numbers: $597,000 to ten consultants, and $1.33 million spent on the governor’s Office of Health Care Reform.

However… the consultants and the OHCR weren’t the only people who put in time on single-payer. Work was also done by staffers in “10 offices, departments and agencies.” There was lobbying and flackery on behalf of single-payer. And many millions were spent on the Green Mountain Care Board and other entities that might not have existed, or been nearly so expensive, if not for their work on single-payer.

So, $2 million. Or a lot more, your choice.

The big question, though: was that too much? And the answer is, it depends.

If it was spent well and wisely, then $2 million or even $20 million would be a perfectly reasonable investment in research on a huge policy initiative. If it was spent poorly, then $2 million or $2,000 would be a waste.

So it depends. If you oppose single-payer, it’s an outrage. If you favor single-payer and believe the governor did his best, it’s reasonable.

And if, like me and many other single-payer supporters, you have your doubts regarding the administration’s performance, then that $2 million figure will make you a bit more queasy about the whole enterprise.

Urp.