By Rob Roper
There are some things in this world that don’t make any sense from one perspective, but from another vantage point make all the sense in the world. A favorite example of this for me is Act 60. So many people come up to me and say, don’t the politicians understand that this property tax policy is killing communities, driving up costs, driving away students, and has done virtually nothing to improve test scores? Are they stupid?
Well, if your perspective on Act 60 is that it is supposed to improve the educational quality of our schools and make funding for the system more equitable, I can see why you’d be pulling your hair out. The concept has proven to be a miserable and painful failure on all fronts. Why in the hell don’t they scrap it?
But, if you consider Act 60 as a mechanism for extracting the greatest amount of tax dollars with the least amount of accountability for the purpose of funding and growing a politically powerful voting bloc (the VTNEA) to the partisan benefit of Vermont Democrats, then Act 60 is a brilliant, well-oiled machine of brutal efficiency. This is what Act 60 is really about, and it ain’t goin’ anywhere without a fight.
This same phenomenon of differing perspectives is at work with our somewhat enigmatic new governor. At his press conference signing the health care bill (H.202) into law, Shumlin energetically proclaimed that, “We gather here today to launch the first single payer system in America.” But it’s not a single payer system.
In fact, many in Shumlin’s own party are trying to explain this misperception to worried constituents who really do not like the term and what it stands for. The house healthcare committee even went so far as to strip “single payer” out from everywhere it appeared in the original draft of the bill.
No matter what Vermont does, Medicare is probably not going to be a party to Green Mountain Care (Medicare represents just under 100,000 Vermonters), ERISA policies can’t be touched according to federal law (that’s just over 100,000 Vermonters). Veterans will remain on federal insurance programs. And, the system will still have to accommodate all of the private insurance policies of non-Vermont residents who use our hospitals, as well as the private “wrap-around” policies necessary for supplementing the “essential” (but not comprehensive) state provided coverage. There are going to be many different payers in this system.
(What we’re actually getting is the worst of all worlds, but that’s a subject for a whole ‘nuther article.)
Since “single payer” a politically toxic idea for many Vermonters and, perhaps more importantly, inaccurate, why does our governor insist on using it?
Here’s what I suspect: Shumlin’s not pushing this program for the benefit of the people who actually live in this state. He’s motivation is all about building a national fundraising base for a 2016 run for the U.S. Senate. Observers have noticed that Senator Leahy seems to be waning a bit mentally, and many think he will retire after his seventh term.
Shumlin will be ready. For single payer activists around the country, “single payer” is critically important, and Shumlin wants their attention and their money. Who cares if what he’s saying is true or not, he’s got to preserve the illusion that Vermont is pioneering the first single payer system in the nation in order to garner media attention beyond the Burlington Free Press and adulation beyond Brattleboro.
It makes little sense that in the middle of an economic and budget crisis that the new governor would make this health care bill his premier issue, especially when federal law won’t even allow implementation of this preposterous scheme until 2017. But, that 2017 date makes perfect sense for a politician who wants credit for addressing an issue without suffering any consequences for its failure.
When it does fail to come to fruition, I can hear Shumlin’s speech already… “We tried our best in Vermont to make single payer a reality, but Washington stood in the way. Therefore, I’ve learned that change has to happen in Washington. Send me there and I promise not to waste another six years and millions of your tax dollars on another boondoggle like the one I just perpetrated in Vermont….” And the ever-duped activists in red shirts go wild!
In fact, a look at the issues that have marked Shumlin’s political career bears this formula out. Single payer… gay marriage… global warming…. All issues that have highly active national constituencies that tend to donate heavily. Problems that actually affect Vermonters and just Vermonters, like our broken property tax system or the unprecedented flight of 18 – 36 year olds from the Green Mountains due to lack of opportunity don’t buy our governor’s attention.
At a press conference back on April 28, 2011, Shumlin wouldn’t even admit he’s running for re-election as governor. This, despite the fact that he’s hired a campaign fundraiser, is sending out letters, organizing volunteers and lining up lobbying groups for support. Well, he says, that’s “just in case.”
This is not a guy who’s honest and forthright about his motives or even what he’s doing. He has an agenda, and its about himself. When Shumlin, I think he’s lying twice. He’s running for governor in 2012, and he’s running for U.S. Senate in 2016. The worst part of it is he’s wasting our time and tax dollars to do it.