Candidates spar over health care reform
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau | September 13,2012
Vermont Public Radio photo
Vermont gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, and challenger Randy Brock, a Republican, shake hands prior to a debate Wednesday night hosted by Vermont Public Radio.
MONTPELIER — In a 90-minute debate that hit on jobs, health care, energy policy and even a reference to the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock on Wednesday night sought to instill voter angst in some of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s touchstone policy initiatives.
The candidates kept their gloves on in a rhetorical sparring match that lacked any knockout punches. But Brock used the first of seven debates in the 2012 campaign to try to undermine public confidence in the Democratic incumbent’s plan for a single-payer health care system.
“We can be bold. And no one can criticize a governor for being bold,” Brock said. “But there’s a point at which being bold can be reckless. … There may be a reason the other 49 states aren’t doing what Vermont is doing.”
Brock said Shumlin is leading the state headlong into a publicly financed health plan without offering any foreknowledge of how much the universal system will cost, or what kind of tax he’ll use to pay for it.
Shumlin’s “reckless” approach to overhauling health care, Brock said, is symptomatic of impulsive decision-making elsewhere in government, notably in his plan to proceed with reconstruction of the state office complex in Waterbury without any assurances of aid from the federal government.
Shumlin on Wednesday announced that the state would move forward with plans to rebuild in Waterbury despite the fact that decisions on Federal Emergency Management Agency funding could still be years away.
“The worst thing we can do is move forward blindly on the theory of ‘trust me, it will all work out,’ without doing true contingency work,” Brock said in a debate broadcast on Vermont Public Radio. “Not knowing where you’re going to get money to do something I think goes beyond being bold.”
Shumlin said he’s happy to have voters scrutinize his record as governor, and asked them Wednesday night for another two years to move forward with his vision for the state.
“We’re on track, we’re making progress, and we’re … tackling problems other politicians won’t or can’t,” Shumlin said. “Give us another two years to complete the job we’ve (started).”
At current spending trajectories, Shumlin said, Vermont will spend $2,500 more per person on health care in 2015 than it is spending today.
He said the choice for voters on health care is between a governor who wants to curb rising costs by eliminating administrative inefficiencies and installing groundbreaking payment reforms, and one who would undo regulations on private insurers that have insulated the elderly and sick from prohibitively expensive premiums.
“As a business person and a governor, (I believe) if we can be the first state to contain costs, and remove health care from employment … we’ll grow the economic opportunities for Vermonters,” Shumlin said.
The debate served to spotlight the difference between the candidates on energy policy, where Brock criticized Shumlin’s efforts to win taxpayer-funded incentives for renewable energy development.
Brock said ratepayers have been forced to underwrite the profits of a small group of energy entrepreneurs, and that the results have been of no benefit to residents.
Shumlin said Vermont can carve out a prominent role in the emerging renewable market by leading the nation on solar, wind, hydro and other sources. Marginal increases in electricity rates now are a wise investment to build the industry of the future, Shumlin said.
“We’re growing jobs, we’re growing economic opportunities,” Shumlin said. “That’s what this is about.”
The reference to the Soup Nazi came when Brock came under attack by Shumlin for inviting Maine Gov. Paul Lepage to a fundraiser earlier this summer, then standing silently when the Republican likened the Internal Revenue Service to the Gestapo.
Shumlin asked Brock: “Do you regret not speaking up at time?”
Brock said he said at the time that he did not agree with Lepage’s remarks, and that they were “unfortunate.” But Brock said Wednesday it was clear Lepage “was using hyperbole,” like the “Seinfeld” writers who came up with the “Soup Nazi” character.