Updated at 7:39 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen's U.S. Senate campaign is releasing a new digital ad that touts Republican rival Marsha Blackburn's past praise of the former governor's handling of TennCare woes.
The Bredesen campaign released the two-minute spot after what it says are Congressman Blackburn's "attacks" on Bredesen's record on TennCare.
Blackburn's Senate campaign website recently posted a short video. It was shot by an apparent Republican campaign tracker who asked the former governor last week during a Tullahoma, Tennessee campaign swing about the impact of his successful effort starting in the mid-2000s to dis-enroll an estimated 190,000 people from the state's expanded version of Medicaid.
Bredesen, a one-time health care entrepreneur who had hoped to fix TennCare, said the 1994 experimental expansion that extended health care coverage to many single adults was financially unsustainable and threatened spending on other state responsibilities such as education and safety.
The General Assembly, including many Republican lawmakers, went along with Bredesen's plan in 2005.
"In typical Washington fashion, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn is talking out of both sides of her mouth," said Alyssa Hansen, Bredesen's press secretary, in a news release.
She said that "on the one hand, Congresswoman Blackburn spent the better part of the past decade touting Governor Bredesen's health care expertise in fixing TennCare. But now that his record is inconvenient for her campaign, she's gone into the old Washington playbook of trying to turn it into a negative attack."
Hansen called it "typical of the Washington swamp, and it reeks. That's why it's time for fresh air up there and why Governor Bredesen is applying for the job."
Blackburn campaign spokeswoman Abbi Sigler fired back, saying, "Marsha successfully led the state income tax fight which forced the issue of addressing the root cause which was the explosion of Tenncare.
"Phil Bredesen supports government-controlled, single-payer healthcare, and if he were to get elected, he would vote to replace Lamar Alexander with Democrat Patty Murray, who also supports government-controlled, single-payer healthcare, as the HELP Committee chairman. That's not what Tennesseans want."
The political tracker last week repeatedly asked Bredesen about the cuts with Bredesen ignoring him. At one point, the man asks, "Do you have nothing to say about the people who died, Mr. Bredesen?"
Bredesen's ad cites Blackburn's appearances on cable news as well as in written statements and comments in Congressional hearings where she discussed and explained TennCare's problems and commended the then-governor's handling of the situation.
The ad features a 2016 CNN appearance in which Blackburn, a former state senator who left the Legislature in 2002 after getting elected to Congress, said TennCare "quadrupled in cost in a five-year period of time. It drove the state to the point of bankruptcy. To the point of being 35.3 percent of the state budget.
"And," the congressman said, "it was a Democrat governor who ended up taking much of this down and reshaping the program."
Another clip shows Blackburn during a U.S. House committee meeting in 2011, saying TennCare had "reached the point of consuming 35.3 percent of the state budget. Even our former governor, a Democrat, Phil Bredesen did a lot to rein in the exploding cost."
The ad also cites a Blackburn news release in which she said Bredesen "cut the Tennessee budget and with his legislature [made] tough, fiscally sound choices. They reformed the state's largest entitlement program, TennCare, to reduce waste and excess."
In approving the Medicaid expansion in 1994 at then-Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter's urging, then-Democratic President Bill Clinton's administration gave the state certain financial allowances to draw more federal money in the jointly funded program.
But under Republican President George W. Bush's administration, the federal government began cutting those allowances.
There were major problems by the time Bredesen took office in 2003. After winning approval from state lawmakers to overhaul the program and a later successful court battle with health care activists, the state began disenrolling tens of thousands of adults.
Bredesen's campaign says those people would not have been eligible for coverage in other states. At the time, the disenrollments prompted protests and disabled demonstrators at one point occupied the reception area of Bredesen's office.
The Bredesen campaign said that as governor he "protected" coverage for children while going after waste, fraud and abuse elsewhere and implementing prescription drug limits.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.