TN GOP leaders says Dems reckless on hospital fee

On April 14, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

April 14, 2011

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris on Thursday accused Democrats of gamesmanship for their reluctance to quickly renew a hospital fee designed to avoid millions of dollars in TennCare cuts.

The Collierville Republican said Democrats are “holding health care hostage” because they don’t want to support the measure before evaluating the final version of the state’s annual spending plan.

“I think you should pick a better fight — you’ve got lives at stake here,” Norris said. “They don’t seem to be too worried about that.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis called Norris’ characterization a “stretch.” He said Democrats haven’t taken a formal position on the measure, but want to have more input into the overall budget.

“Before anyone would vote to raise taxes, one should have an idea what’s going on,” Kyle said. “I just expressed to (Norris) that I’m just looking for assurances that we will be informed.”

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal assumes that lawmakers will adopt the more than $400 million in hospital fees, which would qualify for a 2-to-1 match by the federal government

Democrats are quick to note that Republicans don’t need their votes to pass the measure, given the GOP’s wide majorities in both chambers. But Norris said he doesn’t want to make the hospital fee a partisan issue.

“It matters to me that we not look like Washington-style politics,” he said. “It can be done, but it’s unnecessary and unpleasant.”

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville voted against a similar measure last year, but said he supports this year’s version.

“That was a political vote,” Ramsey said of last year’s hospital fee. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done it, but it was.”

Ramsey noted that Kyle sponsored last year’s version and that most of his caucus voted for the measure.

“The Democrats are trying to hold this up for political gain this year,” he said. “It would be a shame to see Republicans voting for it and Democrats voting against.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said his biggest concern is that the current proposal doesn’t seek the maximum 5.5 percent fee, meaning the state is still planning to make about $40 million in TennCare cuts.

“We have some people who think if we’re going to do this, we ought to do it all the way, or maybe not vote for it,” he said. “It’s hard for Democrats not to help people, but why help people half way?”


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