NASHVILLE - Tea party conservatives on Wednesday persuaded the state House Republican Caucus to call Tennessee's two U.S. senators and nine congressmen before the House early next year to discuss issues like states' rights, health care, immigration and personal liberty.
Whether they can make it stick is another question.
"The federal government is out of control," the plan's chief proponent, state Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, told colleagues. "Look what the Internal Revenue Service is doing to people's rights. Look at what the Department of Justice is doing to our rights and liberty."
Matheny, a former speaker pro tempore, wants what he calls a "bilateral session of Congress" in which state lawmakers hope to exert more influence over their counterparts' actions in Washington.
Republican U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker and U.S. Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and John "Jimmy" Duncan, both Republicans, are noncommittal about the idea.
"I'm not saying Tennessee is going to be able to stand up and reverse the course of Washington. This is one step," Matheny told caucus members who, after considerable debate, voted 31-16 by secret ballot to set his proposal in motion.
Matheny said his goal is provide more "accountability" for federal decision-making. It is "not a political roast," he said, promising it will be an orderly process and not a "free-for-all in which everyone brings bowls of fruit to throw."
It's a "last step" before a national constitutional convention, Matheny said, calling that notion "scary."
Several lawmakers raised concerns about how the session would actually work. The GOP has a supermajority in both state legislative chambers. The state's two U.S. senators and seven of the nine federal House members are Republican.
State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, said he was worried that Duncan, R-Tenn., whose district includes Knoxville, would come under fire from state House Democrats.
Duncan has his finger on the pulse of the 2nd Congressional District, Haynes said, adding that the nation would have far fewer problems if all of Congress voted with the congressman.
Besides, Haynes argued, state lawmakers easily can talk with their federal counterparts. State Rep. David Alexander, of Winchester, agreed. He said Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais listens to him on state issues.
"I was hired as a state legislator and I'm going to communicate on state matters," Alexander said. He's not so sure federal lawmakers will do anything differently even if they come to speak to the state House.
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, suggested that instead of every federal lawmaker coming before the entire House, congressmen like Republican Chuck Fleischmann speak with state lawmakers from their own congressional districts.
"They were elected by people in their district, not by people in the [state] House," Dean said.
Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, said what "scares me" is having liberal Democrats from Memphis attacking Fleischmann. At the same time, he added, he wouldn't like conservative Republicans from East Tennessee attacking U.S. Rep. Steven Cohen, D-Memphis, a liberal Democrat.
Haynes unsuccessfully suggested giving control over the selection of a committee to talk to the federal delegation and relay input from state House colleagues to House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville.
But Matheny opposed the idea, arguing it didn't require the session to be open to the public and didn't set a firm timetable as his proposal does. It could result in "kicking the can down the road" on the entire idea, Matheny said.
As adopted, Matheny's plan calls for Harwell to name a seven-member committee, which would include one Democrat, to begin devising questions and issues. The idea is for the bilateral session to occur between Jan. 15 and Feb. 15 unless events in Washington make that impractical.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.