Medicaid expansion could be among issues facing 2015 TN General Assembly

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Republicans, after just having increased already existing majorities in the state’s General Assembly, will likely have a fight with Democrats over whether to expand Medicaid in the upcoming 2015 legislative session.

That issue and many others are expected to dominate the 2015 gathering, scheduled to begin in January.

State Senate Democrat Caucus spokesman Matt Anderson told Tennessee Watchdog this week that Democrats, while in the minority, are already plotting their agenda for the upcoming year.

“Expanding Medicaid will be a top priority for all of our members,” Anderson said, in an email. “We’re losing $2.5 million of our own federal tax dollars each day that should be used for people who can’t afford insurance and protect struggling hospitals.”

The Democrats’ push to expand Medicaid under Obamacare isn’t lost on the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a Nashville-based free market think tank.

Last week, the Beacon Center released a report stating Medicaid expansion would kill more than 67,000 private sector jobs in the state. The report also said expanding the service would undo whatever economic progress Tennessee has made since the national economy almost collapsed six years ago.

Beacon Center spokesman Mark Cunningham said the nonprofit is prepared for the fight.

“We don’t believe that this expansion is going to help anybody. We think it doesn’t help the health care problem. It just makes it worse,” Cunningham said. “Instead of fixing the system through privatization or something else we are expanding a system that is broken. We will fight it, as we think it is really, really bad for the taxpayers of Tennessee.”

Despite gearing for a fight, Democrats in both the Tennessee Senate and House are expected to have even less influence than before.

School choice is one of many issues the Tennessee General Assembly is expected to address in 2015.

The Tennessee Senate is currently composed of 26 Republicans and seven Democrats. Senate Republicans picked up two additional seats this year, meaning they now represent all of Tennessee’s 95 counties, said Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman Darlene Schlicher.

“The five remaining Democrats are from two counties, Davidson and Shelby, which are also shared with Republican senators,” Schlicher said.

Tennessee House Republicans also picked up two additional seats, giving them a majority of 73 Republicans over 26 Democrats, said House Republican Caucus spokesman Cade Cothren.

Cothren said he had no specifics on House Republicans’ planned agenda.

“Obviously it is tough to get into too many specifics with the session still on the horizon and the bill filing deadline a couple of months away,” Cothren said.

Cothren did say, however, that House Republicans are likely to work on more tax cuts and avoid tax increases altogether. Cothren also said the State House will examine Tennessee’s educational standards, although he didn’t offer specifics or if that involves school choice.

The Beacon Center, which advocated school choice in prior legislative sessions, will also pursue the matter in 2015, Cunningham said, specifically a bill that gives vouchers to 5,000 low-income students in failing school districts.

“We came one vote short during the last legislative session of getting a bill passed that we thought would help a lot of children across Tennessee,” Cunningham said.

Tennessee Democrats, in the minority in the General Assembly, promise to put up a fight over expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

Some Democrats support the legislation, while some Republicans don’t, Cunningham said.

“With one vote away we are confident that we will get something passed this session, probably something that looks similar to what was brought up last session. Just one more vote is totally doable this session.”

Schlicher told Tennessee Watchdog that Republicans in the State Senate plan to address the issue of the Hall Income Tax, which, as previously reported, is a 6 percent income tax on dividends from stocks and interest on certain bonds.

State officials enacted the Hall Income Tax in 1929, according to the state’s official website.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org

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