NASHVILLE - Tempers flared in a Senate panel's debate Wednesday over Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal today after a Democratic lawmaker brought up the fact that lawmakers enjoy their own government-subsidized health care through membership in the state insurance plan.
Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, sharply criticized Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, after Yarbro said in the Health Committee hearing that "I would just note that virtually every member of the Tennessee General Assembly receives some form of tax-subsidized health care."
With the governor's proposal in trouble among GOP lawmakers, Yarbro, a proponent of the plan to extend federally subsidized insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans, also said, "Before we make the decision to do nothing, I just think many of those members who are opposed or have doubts about this would offer some type of suggestion about what the governor's plan should do that would allow us to actually accomplish this."
"Sen. Yarbro," shot back Gardenhire, who opposes Haslam's plan, "I've heard you twice kind of take a slap at some of us, and I'm getting a little resentful of it. I have a very nice health care [plan] provided to me through my private employer. My wife's on Social Security. I guess some people could say i should be on Social Security. But I'm not."
Gardenhire added, "When you said while ago we ought to take it seriously, would you name the ones on the committee that's not taking this seriously? And if you can't, how about apologizing. This is not a campaign. This is serious."
Replied Yarbro: "I completely agree this is not a campaign and it is very serious. And I don't think there's anyone who's not taking the job seriously."
Gardenhire retorted, "Then why did you say so?"
"I did not say," Yarbro began ,when Gardenhire cut him off, saying, "Yes, you did. I know you're new but you need to learn how to respect us."
Yarbro said, "With all due respect, I do respect this body and this body's serious consideration of the issues."
The Times Free Press reported Monday that while many Republicans have concerns about Haslam's proposal, 88 of the 99 House members and 28 of the 33 senators are state employee health plan, even though they are not considered full-time state employees. The state's taxpayers pay 80 percent their premiums.
Gardenhire said afterward that while he has signed up for the state employees' health plan, he has not used it.
Yarbro, a freshman, is the only Democrat on the 11-member Health Committee.
The resolution later failed on a 7-4 vote, effectively killing the bill and ending Haslam's special session to consider it.
All Republicans, including Gardenhire, voted against it.