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NASHVILLE -- Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen said the election of a Republican to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts may be a "good thing" if it forces Democrats to refocus from health care reform to voters' concerns about the economy.

"I really do believe you've got to respond to what's on the public's mind at a certain level," Gov. Bredesen, a persistent critic of the U.S. Senate and House health care reform bills, told reporters Tuesday.

"I think it had gotten a little off track, with the public being very, very concerned about the economy and jobs and the prospect of losing jobs, and the Congress off designing health reform to take place in the latter part of the next decade," he said.

"To the extent that what happened in Massachusetts kind of brings everybody back, puts their feet on the ground with what people are really concerned about right now, it will have been a good thing."

U.S. Senate Democrats' filibuster-proof majority collapsed last week when Republican Scott Brown was elected Massachusetts' new senator, taking over a seat held for decades by Democrat Ted Kennedy. Democrats no longer have 60 votes to bring the bill directly to the Senate floor if Republicans object.

Gov. Bredesen said congressional versions of health care reform, which required states to expand their Medicaid programs to add more poor people, imposed "substantial" financial burdens that Tennessee and other states can ill afford.

If Democrats return to health care, he said, "I hope that they find a way to do it that does not involve just passing significant portions of the bill onto the states."

Gov. Bredesen said some health reforms are clearly needed, but there are "lots of different opinions as to what those ought to be."

State Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, disagreed with the governor on health care reform.

"I think the Democrats need to do whatever they need to get health care reform passed. Period. The end," she said.

Rep. Richardson said having the U.S. House pass the U.S. Senate bill is "the right thing to do. I mean, look, this state is cutting quadriplegics out of TennCare."

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