Governor Peter Shumlin abandoned single payer healthcare yesterday right when political leadership was needed most to push Vermont and the country forward. He broke five years of campaign promises to Vermonters that he would not rest until we had single payer healthcare. Yet when things got tough and politically challenging, he gave up and walked away.
The Vermont Progressive Party did not run Progressive challengers against Governor Shumlin in the last three cycles, in large part because of his unwavering promise to lead on single payer. While we are outraged by Shumlin’s broken promises, we are not terribly surprised. Progressives have long raised the same challenges Shumlin is now using as his excuses for why we can’t move ahead on single payer. We have long pushed for discussions about how we can equitably fund our new system, and live up to our promise of healthcare as a human right. But rather than work through these issues or scale back the project, Shumlin decided to scrap it entirely (and with it, many Vermonters’ hopes of a just and accessible healthcare system).
Governor Shumlin only seems concerned about the projected future economic burden to businesses, not the burden that working people are bearing right now. There are significant and meaningful steps Vermont can take as we transition to a fully publicly financed health system– a system that doesn’t punish working families who can’t afford the high costs of health insurance premiums. We can’t be afraid to examine ways to fund a more fair, more efficient, universal system of healthcare delivery (like they have in virtually every other country in the industrialized world). Vermont needs leaders who aren’t afraid of having these tough conversations, who aren’t too scared to stand up for what’s right. We owe that to the people of our state. Anything less is a betrayal of all Vermont’s working families who struggle with the costs of healthcare every day.
Vermont Progressives have built the strongest third political party in the country over the last 30 years, largely due to our unwavering commitment to reforming healthcare and economic justice. Our current elected legislators remain committed to finding a path forward. We are not backing down, despite this crisis of leadership. Vermont has a proud history of being out in front, despite the risks of opposing interest groups. We should stick with the Vermont tradition of having a difficult but honest discussion with our citizens.
Looking ahead, the Progressive Party will continue to find candidates to run for statewide and legislative office in 2016 who are unwavering in their commitment to comprehensive, universal health care. We increased the number of Progressives in the Statehouse in 2014, and we look forward to building off that momentum.
Vermonters want to see political leaders who stand up for the issues that matter to working people and don’t back down just because the debate heats up. Vermonters deserved better from Governor Shumlin. We aim to give it to them. It is clear that now, more than ever, Vermont needs a third party with a strong spine that will stand up where our current leaders have fallen down.