Tuesday, January 20, 2015

As Special Session Approaches, Lawmakers Tremble in Fear

Posted By on Tue, Jan 20, 2015 at 10:09 AM

In the latest chapter of our long-running story titled Are These Chuckleheads Really in Charge of State Government? lawmakers are squabbling over which of them should have to hang their asses out the window by voting first on Medicaid expansion.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga announced at the start of Friday's floor session that he wanted to dispel what he called a "silly notion" among Senate Republicans that they would wait for the measure to clear several committees in lower chamber before taking up measure. That would put House Republicans in the position of having to cast politically difficult votes before their Senate colleagues.

"That will not happen," McCormick said.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters that he has long held the position that the Senate shouldn't get involved in the measure until it gains traction in the House.

"I want to make sure it passes the House before we take it up," he said. "I think that's logical."

What's more important? Lawmakers risking their pathetic little political careers or a couple of hundred thousand people gaining access to medical care? Is that a trick question?

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Special Session Looks Like Train Wreck for GOP

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Rep. Gerald McCormick
  • Rep. Gerald McCormick
Next month’s special session of the legislature is shaping up as a real embarrassment for the Tennessee Republican Party. Gov. Bill Haslam, the party’s leader and potential national star, says Medicaid expansion is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do.” Yet at the moment, just about every member of his super-duper majority seems bound and determined to stick to the immoral and fiscally wrong.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are doing their best to sit on the sidelines so far. Harwell, who owes her position to Haslam, is claiming laughably to be hearing from her constituents before deciding what to do, as if what they think in Green Hills ought to be the determining factor. Without the speakers’ help and active arm-twisting, Medicaid expansion might never even come to a vote.

Haslam has managed to shame House Republican leader Gerald McCormick into sponsoring his bill in that chamber. There is no Senate sponsor yet, with Senate leader Mark Norris apparently choosing not to lead. McCormick isn’t shy about admitting he’s doing it reluctantly.

"Majority leaders carry governors' bills," McCormick said. "So I'm going to cover the governor's bill."

Continue reading »

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Monday, January 12, 2015

Tennessee GOP Unmoved by Economic Benefits of Medicaid Expansion

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 11:00 AM

Yet another study is trumpeting the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid in Tennessee — 15,000 new jobs and $1.14 billion in new spending! But instead of lining up to vote for Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee program, GOP lawmakers are hunting high and low for acceptable reasons to oppose it so they don’t embarrass their own governor and come across as contemptible pricks desperately trying to fend off Tea Party challengers in their next elections.

To that end, Senate Finance Committee chairman Randy McNally is asking the attorney general whether Haslam’s financing scheme is legal and whether the state can kick off the program’s enrollees willy nilly in the future without any inconvenient courtroom drama.

While waiting for the AG’s answers — or any other excuses to vote no that might pop up — nearly all of the legislature’s super-duper majority, including Senate speaker Ron Ramsey and House speaker Beth Harwell, is claiming to be on the fence.

Haslam already has acknowledged it’ll take solid Democratic support to pass his plan. But as Tom Humphrey points out today, it’ll take at least 12 Republicans to reach the 17-member majority in the Senate. And to reach a 50-member majority in the House, Haslam needs 24 Republicans. At this point, does anyone see that many Republicans voting for this?

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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Appearing with Obama Could Kill Haslam's Medicaid Expansion Plan, Ramsey Says

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 6:13 PM

In a shocking commentary on the pathetic state of our politics in Tennessee — OK, maybe it's not that shocking — Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says Gov. Bill Haslam is making it harder to pass his Medicaid expansion plan by appearing with President Obama tomorrow in Knoxville. From the Commercial Appeal's Rick Locker:

Ramsey said it hurts the sales job the Republican governor faces in the GOP-dominated legislature. “I do think that if were negotiating with a different administration, this would be much easier. And if Obama tries to say this is Obamacare, which it’s not, it’s dead on arrival. It is. So does it help or hurt? It hurts. In life and especially in politics, perception is reality and it doesn’t help the perception.”

So according to Ramsey, Republicans are so petty and hate Obama so damn much that they're willing to scuttle health insurance for a couple hundred thousand Tennesseans just to spite the governor for welcoming the president to Tennessee. Seriously?

Asked in Memphis to respond, Haslam — who's calling a special session for Feb. 2 — seemed in disbelief:

"When the President of the United States comes to your state, and comes to recognize one of our signature programs — having community colleges be free to every high school graduate — and comes to say 'We think the rest of the country should be doing what Tennessee's doing', I think that's a good thing," Haslam said at the Shelby County Courthouse after swearing in Oscar "Bo" Carr III as a Chancery Court judge.

"So, every now and then we need to put politics aside and say this is a place where Democrats and Republicans can agree," he said, again referencing his Tennessee Promise education plan.

Update: House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh says he’s “certainly worried” about political fallout from Haslam's appearance with Obama.

“But I hope political pettiness is overcome by overwhelmingly positive aspects of the governor and the Legislature taking this action to insure 200,000 Tennesseans,” he says.

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Haslam Undergoes Brain Transplant, Welcomes Obama to Tennessee

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 10:00 AM

Safely reelected and term limited, Gov. Bill Haslam has transformed into a rational human being. First, he wants to expand Medicaid and now he’s actually agreeing to personally welcome President Obama to Tennessee tomorrow. Stranger still, Haslam calls the presidential visit to Knoxville “a good thing.” Our world is upside down.

During Obama’s last two visits to Tennessee — both to Nashville last year — Haslam conveniently found something else to do, and basically the entire Tennessee Republican World pointedly ignored the president because they hate him. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey once even outright refused to acknowledge Obama holds office legitimately.

What next? Will Republicans start believing in climate change?

Of course, it helps that Obama is coming here to praise Haslam’s free community college program. The governor is looking forward to the national attention the president’s visit will bring. But maybe it's the beginning of a slightly more reasonable politics in our state. We can hope, right?

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

GOP Shaking Fists Again at VW over Union

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 1:30 PM

Tennessee Republicans are throwing hissy fits because Volkswagen doesn’t share their out-of-control hatred of organized labor as Satan’s spawn.

Those German bizpigs just don’t get it! Don’t they understand the necessity of keeping workers in step-and-fetch-it mode — heads bowed, eyes downcast and forever grateful for whatever menial wages come their way?

In retaliation for VW’s granting the United Auto Workers access to the plant and regular meetings with management, lawmakers are threatening to deny promised economic incentives for the automaker to expand in Chattanooga.

Republican state Sen. Todd Gardenhire says VW officials are "in your face. It's their way or no way. They've decided by-golly they want the UAW here. They're not listening to the community."

How dare they run their business the way they please!

So to mess with the UAW, Republicans are willing to piss off VW and possibly throw away a couple thousand new jobs in Chattanooga. If it means giving employees even a little say-so in the way their workplace is run, well, who needs Volkswagen? We don’t want VW’s attitude infecting the minds of the rest of our state’s workers. They might start expecting living wages and health insurance and, you know, decent treatment.

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Surprise! Haslam Fumbling Medicaid Expansion

Posted By on Mon, Jan 5, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Raise your hand if you’re surprised Bill Haslam is screwing up his first real political challenge as governor.

Haslam unveiled his plan to expand Medicaid in Tennessee last month, then went around to a few newspapers to talk about passing it in a special session of the legislature. But he neglected to talk to legislative leaders about any of it, and now they’re complaining in the media and emboldening recalcitrant lawmakers to openly oppose Haslam—all before the governor even has made public the details of his plan or asked for a federal waiver to implement it.

"It's just that a lot of us are getting cold feet real quick," House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada says. "I have grave reservations."

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the governor hasn't shown him his plan, either. Asked Friday when he expected Haslam to present the plan to him, Norris said "two weeks ago."

"It weighs heavily on me and the rest of us," Norris said. "Everybody in the General Assembly. I've spent an inordinate amount of time studying the options during the holiday, and you know, I've just about exhausted my limited knowledge of where he's headed. Don't really know what more can be done at this point."

The governor obviously should have briefed legislative leaders before going public with his Medicaid expansion plan. That’s Politics 101. A laissez-faire approach to the legislature won’t work. Does somebody really need to tell him that?

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

GOP Lawmakers Want to Take Away Our Obamacare Subsidies

Posted By on Wed, Dec 31, 2014 at 9:18 AM

Republican state lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Senate leader Mark Norris — all of whom, by the way, enjoy free state health insurance — are asking the Supreme Court to strike down Obamacare subsidies in red states like Tennessee that have refused to run their own insurance exchanges.

The 18 lawmakers, plus former Nashville Rep. Jim Gotto, have signed a brief from right-wingers in the case, meaning they all think it’d be peachy if Tennesseans lose their subsidies and their health insurance. About 120,000 people in this state already use the subsidies to help pay for coverage.

If these lawmakers get their way, we will become sicker as a state as a consequence, and it’ll happen while the working poor in Kentucky — where they run their own exchange — happily take advantage of the subsidies and go to the doctor and lead healthier lives just because they live across the state line.

A reasonable person might think it’s crazy to want to deny your citizens the means to buy health insurance. But that person wouldn’t realize that Obamacare is evil.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

GOP Supermajority Stamping Out Last Vestiges of Resistance

Posted By on Tue, Dec 30, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Tennessee Republicans are fed up with watching helplessly as their wacky ideas die in the legislature because they violate the U.S. Constitution or bust the state budget. So they’re taking steps to fix this little problem.

First, in a campaign led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, they browbeat the state Supreme Court into appointing a Republican lackey as attorney general. Their assumption is that he’ll stop issuing all those pesky opinions questioning the constitutionality of their clearly unconstitutional bills. There are many of these bills each session, mostly trampling on rights for suspicious individuals such as Muslims, workers in unions or schoolteachers.

Now Republicans are targeting the legislature’s Fiscal Review office, whose job it is to point out costs associated with the thousands of bills filed each session. The office is supposed to be nonpartisan and professional. But the GOP supermajority has just named a conservative zealot to run it, presumably to stamp out this inconvenient fretting over costs.

“Our fiscal review directors have a long history of being reliable, nonpartisan individuals,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh says. “While we might disagree with their assessments, we’ve never worried about them having an agenda. That’s why this appointment is so concerning.”

This is what happens when the tea party seizes control of your legislature. Viva la revolution!

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Haslam Under Attack in Moonie Times

Posted By on Mon, Dec 29, 2014 at 10:00 AM

You know Gov. Bill Haslam is doing something right when the crazy Inside-the-Beltway conservatives finally take notice of him and go on the attack. The Washington Times, aka the Moonie Times, is upset because Haslam is trying to expand Medicaid. In an editorial, the newspaper misspelled his name while accusing the governor of undercutting GOP mindless stupidity and spiteful partisanship. Gasp!

Stupid is as stupid does, as the old folk wisdom has it, and the Republican Governors Association has elevated to chairman a governor who has undercut the Republican argument that Obamacare is a bad thing. Gov. Bill Haslem of Tennessee actually likes it.

The Times goes on to babble somewhat incoherently about some previously unknown Medicaid expansion in Tennessee that "nearly bankrupted the state." According to the Times, Medicaid is a "government crutch" that will encourage slackers to stay lazy and damage our economy. The problem is, most of our beloved supermajority in the legislature doubtlessly agrees.

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