By Scott Robertson
Before the Tennessee General Assembly gets down to regular business this year, it will already have debated what is likely to be one of the most contentious issues it will face. Governor Bill Haslam has called a special session during which no other issues may be discussed in order to vote his Insure Tennessee plan up or down. That session is slated to begin at 4 p.m., Feb.2.
“If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago what might be controversial this term, I would have said common core, perhaps something about abortion or guns,” Jon Lundberg, first district state house representative says. “Those things have been dwarfed.”
Lundberg says he expects Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to pass both houses and head back to the governor for his signature. “You’re going into a legislature with 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats. Twenty-six Democrats will vote for it in the house. You need 24 Republicans. I have heard from a few and only two had hesitations. The others were like, ‘I think most people want this.’”
Third District Representative Timothy Hill is cautious in discussing the plan. “There are a lot of questions surrounding this: How do you achieve what they’re after and what are the positives and negatives of trying to do so,” Hill says. “So really my mindset is to have an open mind in preparation for the special session. I will look at all the facts and listen to the people of the Third House District ultimately and then vote accordingly. I know it’s controversial to some, but ultimately my job will be to listen to my district.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has been working with the governor on the plan, but says he expects a close vote. “The pros are that we’re already sending money to Washington – Tennessee taxpayer dollars – that we aren’t getting back, and this would bring those dollars back to Tennessee so we can use them in a fashion that we deem proper in Tennessee. That’s what we are doing with this. The other side is that this is a political animal, and we’re dealing with an Obama administration that hasn’t exactly had a good record of doing what they say they’re going to do or of running anything well.
“Those states that took the dollars immediately out of the gate were really kind of idiots to be honest with you,” Ramsey says. “They’re stuck with an old broken system and you see states like Tennessee coming up with innovative ways to spend the same money.
The key for the Tennessee plan to succeed, Ramsey says, is to limit the amount of damage that can occur if the Obama administration fails to live up to its end of the bargain. “It’s not by accident that this plan addresses many of the problems that a lot of people have with Medicaid expansion before the debate even gets started. With the proper safeguards I think we can do the Insure Tennessee, but again there are a lot of details that need to be worked out between now and Feb. 2.
“I’ve talked with the governor about these things,” Ramsey says. “We’ve talked about how the federal government may tell you they’re going to do something, but will they really? We’ve talked about Indiana, Arkansas and other places where they tried a few things that didn’t work out exactly like they thought. So we need to make sure we have these outs, that if they say they’re going to do ‘x’ but don’t do it, then we’re out of the deal.
“It’ll be interesting.”