Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives don’t like the way debate is unfolding over the General Assembly’s proposed authorization of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the leader of the lower-chamber minority party, told reporters that as of Friday afternoon only about 10 of the House’s 26 Democrats are on board with the governor’s plan for using federal Obamacare dollars to fund vouchers for private insurance.
As with Republicans who are as yet undecided about the Haslam administration’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal, many Democrats have more questions than they’ve gotten answers. He said members of his party are also worried the General Assembly’s deliberation process over “Insure Tennessee,” scheduled to occur the week of Feb. 2 in an “extraordinary session,” is already becoming politicized.
Gov. Haslam has said he is counting on the support of all the Legislature’s Democrats, despite their historically low numbers in both chambers, to win approval for his plan. Fifty votes are needed to pass a bill in the 99-member House of Representatives, where 73 seats are held by Republicans. In the 33-member Senate, Democrats hold five seats and Republicans have 28; It takes 17 votes for legislation to pass the upper chamber. Last year, Democrats strongly opposed legislation to require the governor to bring any Affordable Care Act-related Medicaid expansion before the General Assembly for express approval from lawmakers.
“Make no mistake, Democrats want to support this. It is what we’ve been working on for two years,” said Fitzhugh. “We would like a broader Medicaid expansion plan, but we know that’s not going to happen and we are ready to compromise. But we have to have some assurance that what we are compromising for protects people — that it is a people-based compromise, not a politics-based compromise. And so we have questions about it.”