Recrimination in Vermont

Published January 7, 2015

Yesterday I had kind words to say about Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and his decision in early 2014 to show leadership instead of political opportunism in devoting his entire State of the State address to drug abuse. It appears I may be the only person saying a kind word about Shumlin these days.

This morning, VTDigger, an independent news site in Vermont, has a scathing report attacking Shumlin (or rather, quoting lots and lots of people who are attacking Shumlin) for his decision to walk away from single-payer health care once it became clear the financing plan would be economically devastating:

Analysis: Shumlin built ‘lead airplane’ for single payer

Gov. Peter Shumlin could have proposed a financing plan for single payer health care that cost $1 billion less than the one he presented to the public Dec. 17.

Instead, demoralized after a stunning near defeat in the General Election, Shumlin scrapped his long awaited, universal, publicly financed health care plan because he said it would shock Vermont’s fragile economy.

Shumlin has said abandoning the plan is the greatest disappointment of his political career. In remarks a week later, the governor said it was not a political decision.

But critics say that once Shumlin resolved to pull the plug, he cast the program in the most negative light possible because it was not politically viable in the context of his loss of popular support and against the backdrop of a lagging state economy…

But critics say now Vermonters won’t know if single payer could have succeeded in 2015, because after Shumlin decided it wasn’t feasible, he found a way to mitigate the inevitable wave of political backlash and appease his main constituencies: liberal advocates, business leaders, providers, and teacher and state employee unions.

Shumlin had said he would present a menu of options to the Vermont Legislature in the two year run up to the announcement, but instead he presented one plan that Vermonters could not afford.

The story goes on to quote a number of people who think Shumlin could have offered a different, less expensive financing plan with less generous benefits, and other gripes. It’s an entertaining read, at least if you regard single-payer as a terrible idea and enjoy watching people with bad ideas argue amongst themselves.