published Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Bredesen says reform to present 'challenges' for states

NASHVILLE -- Gov. Phil Bredesen congratulated President Barack Obama Monday on the passage of the federal health care overhaul, but he cautioned the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the bill will cost the state $1.1 billion and pose financial "challenges" down the road.

The bill will add 250,000 lower-income Tennesseans to TennCare when Medicaid provisions of the bill take effect from 2014 to 2019, according to state estimates.

A Democrat who last year called the bill the "mother of all unfunded mandates," Gov. Bredesen told reporters he still thinks the bill that passed Sunday in the U.S. House remains a "huge unfunded mandate. And I ... worked against having that unfunded mandate -- not the program. But it's over. It has passed the House and gone to the president."

He said that while a reconciliation measure still must pass, "at this point I'm not wringing my hands over it. ... On this particular one we've got a job to do now to figure out how to make it work."

Much of that will fall to his successor, who also will deal with the aftermath of the recession. Gov. Bredesen noted "it's going to take us a decade to really work our way out of the hole we're in right now."

In an earlier statement, Gov. Bredesen noted that he has "long been a believer in the need for universal health coverage, and believe that this advances that goal."

While the fight is over for Gov. Bredesen, it may just be starting for Tennessee Republicans. Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, a critic of the federal health bill, said he plans to push ahead Wednesday with the proposed Tennessee Health Freedom Act.

The bill, which recently passed the state Senate, says the federal health care bill is invalid under both the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment, which protects states' rights, and Ninth Amendment, which reserves powers to citizens not granted to the federal government or states.

At issue is a federal provision that mandates everyone must have health care insurance. Rep. Bell's bill seeks to make that unenforceable in Tennessee. It also requires the state attorney general to defend "prosecutions of rights protected under this section."

Rep. Bell said he is getting calls and e-mails from Tennesseans who "are flat-out angry at what the federal government did."

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville also commented on the bill.

"I have one thing to say about that: Appomattox," he said, referring to the 1865 surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Asked to elaborate, he said, "We've got a lot of bills on states' rights here, state sovereignty, and all that. We went through that fight before. ... All of a sudden, we have a black man elected president and everybody wants to start acting like something's wrong with our country. ... I didn't agree with a lot of things George Bush did, but I wasn't ready to secede from the union."

The bill is scheduled to come up Wednesday in the state House Industrial Impact Subcommittee. The American Patriot Taxpayers of East Tennessee Tea Party says the bill is "languishing" in the subcommittee and is calling on Tea Partiers to go to the state Capitol and engaged in "peaceful civil disobedience, we will be heard and we will demand action."

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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