Tennessee’s chapter of Americans for Prosperity has earned a write-up in USA Today for its combative, controversial and ultimately successful campaign to thwart Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
In a story published Wednesday, “The Nation’s Newspaper” told how Haslam, described as “the billionaire heir to the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain,” spent the better part of the past two years crafting “Insure Tennessee,” which would’ve required modest co-pays and premiums of its enrollees. The plan had received tentative approval from the Obama administration for Tennessee to initiate.
“Insure Tennessee” would have also put the state on track to draw down billions in federal funding to expand health coverage to 280,000 or more low-income residents who don’t currently qualify either for TennCare or Obamacare subsidies in the federally run health-insurance exchange.
But AFPTN had other ideas. USA Today outlined how the group marshaled its resources and ground support to beat back “Insure Tennessee” by menacing fence-sitting and Medicaid expansion-friendly Republicans with the prospect of future electoral reprisals.
It took just three days…for a committee of the GOP-controlled state Senate to kill the plan — urged on by Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group aligned with billionaires Charles and David Koch that dispatched hundreds of activists to the statehouse and sent out mailers targeting Republicans who voiced interest in the plan.
Americans for Prosperity’s role in the swift demise of Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid in his state underscores how the group — the largest grass-roots group in the expansive Koch network — is leveraging its clout to shape policy coast-to-coast. Its aggressive moves come as the network gears up to spend a staggering $889 million over a two-year period to drive its free-market, small-government agenda.
AFPTN’s tactics — which included “running radio ads, knocking on doors and hitting the talk-radio circuit to tie the plan closely to President Obama” — were disturbing both to Medicaid expansion supporters, like Tennessee Hospital Association president Craig Becker, as well as some opponents, like House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin.
Becker told USA Today that AFPTN’s political offensive “changed the whole paradigm here in Tennessee.”
“They scared the Legislature,” Becker said.
Casada described AFPTN’s intimidating methods as “out of bounds” — particularly the home-district attack-ads run against Republican Kevin Brooks of Cleveland, the assistant House majority leader.
AFPTN director Andrew Ogles, however, expressed no regrets. Ogles acknowledged that things got a little rough. But there was a lot at stake, he said. “Yes, we did play hardball,” Ogles told USA Today. “With health care being one of the largest expenditures for any state, it was a significant issue for Tennessee. We went all in to make sure we defeated it.”
Ogles also echoed sentiments expressed during the “Insure Tennessee” debate by Obamacare’s most vocal Republican foes in the Tennessee Legislature — like Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin — that in the wake of GOP gains in Congress, now’s not the time for Republicans to seek compromises on the Affordable Care Act.
“We have a real opportunity to defund, dismantle and ultimately repeal Obamacare,” Ogles said. “And every time one of these state governors goes for this quick money grab and becomes more dependent on Medicaid, it makes it harder for Congress to do its job.”
The USA Today article called the “Insure Tennessee” defeat the “biggest political win so far this year” for Americans for Prosperity.
AFP’s national president, Tim Phillips, told USA Today that the anti-ACA campaign in Tennessee ought to serve as a wake-up call to Republicans that they should “practice what they preach, which is limited government that can bring economic freedom and individual liberty to help Americans live prosperous lives.”
“For whatever reason this year, Republicans across the country are wavering on some important issues,” Phillips said. “We are here to keep both parties honest.”