NASHVILLE - Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday floated the idea of holding a special legislative session next winter if it's still necessary for Tennessee to come into line with requirements set by President Barack Obama's health care law.
The Blountville Republican said in a speech at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce that waiting to hold a special session in December 2012 would allow time for a Supreme Court challenge or the presidential elections to reverse the tide on the health care law.
"Personally, I hope the Supreme Court overturns it sometime this summer and says you can't have these individual mandates that I think are blatantly unconstitutional," Ramsey said.
"But we can't assume that's going to happen," he said. "We're in kind of a Catch-22 situation."
The law requires states to set up health insurance exchanges by Jan. 1, 2013, or else the federal government will set them up for them. Ramsey said that provision puts Tennessee lawmakers who oppose the law in an unenviable position because they don't want to cede control to the federal government.
The exchanges represent half of Obama's strategy for expanding coverage to more than 30 million uninsured people. While the middle-class uninsured will pick a plan through their state exchange, low-income people will be covered through an expanded Medicaid program.
"None of us want to sit there and push a button or green light that sets up these health care exchanges," he said. "Because if we do, then suddenly it's: 'Well, you voted for Obamacare.'"
By waiting until December, lawmakers could avoid being placed in that position.
"At least that gives an alternative, where we're not out there on a limb for something that didn't happen and vote for something none of us believe in."
Ramsey said he hasn't yet discussed the idea of a special session with Gov. Bill Haslam or other fellow Republicans in the General Assembly.
Haslam spokeswoman Alexia Poe said it would be premature to speculate about a special session next year.
"He has said that while he hopes Obamacare is either overturned by the courts or repealed by Congress, the state has a responsibility to be prepared if it continues as law," Poe said in an email.
Democratic leaders criticized the proposal.
"Ramsey should be focused on finding solutions to our state's jobs crisis in the legislative session that starts next month, instead of trying to score political points in an imaginary session a year from now," Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, said in a statement.
Ramsey told reporters after the event that his proposal is not designed to duck a difficult political issue in an election year.
"I've never ducked politically tough questions - never in my life have I done that," he said. "But at the same time, why do you act on something that may not even happen?"
Under Ramsey's proposal, legislation would be prepared in advance of a potential special session, and could be approved quickly if it is still necessary.