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VOL. 40 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 4, 2016

How a Clinton win might affect Tennessee

By Sam Stockard

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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest U.S. citizens to help offset college costs and update the national infrastructure, among other priorities.

-- Ap Photo/Andrew Harnik

A Hillary Clinton presidency is likely to maintain many of the key policies of President Barack Obama, continuing the clear split between Republicans and Democrats over policies nationally and in Tennessee.

Under that status quo of an administration led by the Democratic nominee, the Republican-dominated state Legislature is expected to continue balking at Clinton’s proposals for health care, as well as immigration.

Clinton, as a U.S. senator from New York and secretary of State and two-term first lady, has a political history people can track. Trump, on the other hand, is making his first real foray into politics and ascended to the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

With Gov. Bill Haslam’s market-based Insure Tennessee proposal on the shelf, in part because of its ties to Obamacare funds, legislators are studying a 3-Star Healthy plan put forward by House Speaker Beth Harwell to offer health insurance for people caught in an insurance gap between TennCare and the Affordable Care Act.

A pilot project in the works is expected to offer a coverage plan to veterans and people with mental health problems before expanding to some 290,000 people.

It’s not guaranteed to advance, though.

“A lot of the Republicans, if indeed this has now been OK’d by the Clinton White House, they may want to oppose it just like they opposed everything that had Barack Obama on it,” says Nashville political commentator Pat Nolan.

“I would say it’s gonna be tough, and there may well be a feeling among the lawmakers, that let’s wait and see what the new president wants to do about health care, whether that’s Trump or Clinton, and we’ll make our decision about Tennessee.”

Clinton indicates she would keep the Affordable Care Act intact but tweak it while Trump says he would abolish the program. If a President Trump were to repeal the program, though, the question remains how he would replace it because the Affordable Care Act holds several popular pieces such as requiring coverage of pre-existing conditions and allowing children to stay on parents’ plans until age 26.

“All that tends to make politicians look for some place to be with their friends and say ‘let’s wait and see what happens,’ and then we’ll do something,” Nolan adds.

Kent Syler, Middle Tennessee State University political science professor and chief of staff for former Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon, predicts the impact of either Clinton or Trump would derive from their national policies.

With Clinton at the helm, Syler sees “more of the same” from two Obama terms and even further back.

“And that’s not necessarily meant to be negative, but a lot of people will see that as negative,” Syler says. “I think she will carry on with a lot of the policies we’ve seen the last eight years and, to some extent, the eight years before that and the eight years before that.”

Traditionalists would argue consistency is good, Syler notes, while people looking for change would be more attracted to Trump.

Legislative view

Coming to terms with the Affordable Care Act and expanding Medicaid coverage in Tennessee is critical, according to state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Ripley Democrat who leads the House Minority Caucus.

“It’s there for the taking, and I think she would be supportive of that and work toward getting Tennessee to do that and that would be a huge positive for Tennessee and the economy,” Fitzhugh says.

“We’ve left about $2.5 billion on the table that would circulate and multiply itself and would put us in a situation where we wouldn’t have some of these problems that we have in our state.”

The Insure Tennessee proposal is opposed by Republicans largely because it uses $1.2 billion annually in state taxes paid through the Affordable Care Act. Despite being proffered by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, in two years it hasn’t reached a floor vote in the House or Senate.

Some Democrats say they believe using those funds to catch people in a coverage gap would help shore up uncertainty in the health insurance market.

The Department of Commerce and Insurance approved premium increases late this summer for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, in addition to Humana and Cigna, which also participate in the marketplace coverage in the state.

But then BlueCross BlueShield dropped its individual coverage plans in three major urban areas, leaving more than 100,000 people to search for new coverage plans starting Nov. 1.

State Rep. Glen Casada, chairman of the House Republican Majority Caucus, says he’s heard Clinton say she wants to tweak the Affordable Care Act. But he’s not sure exactly what her plan will be.

Casada is certain, though, a Clinton presidency would hurt the economy.

“If you look at the big picture, I really feel like Hillary will bring more government regulations, through the EPA, Department of Commerce, etc., and I think it’s going to further cause the middle class to shrink at an equal rate that it has been the last eight years.

“And I think [a Clinton administration] will increase the budget deficit and further drive down the growth of the economy,” he points out.

Even though Gov. Haslam consistently touts new job openings at plants across the state, and Tennessee ranks high in the number of foreign employer investments, Casada downplays the impact of Obama on Tennessee and says Clinton will continue enforcing policies that hurt nationally.

“We have been fortunate here in the state compared to others. The other states are really suffering with job growth, new jobs, construction, etc.,” Casada says.

“We’ve kind of been one of the unique states in the country where we haven’t been affected, and I would put forth that the national economy is so big it would dwarf whatever good things the state of Tennessee could do.”

Congressional view

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a 4th District Republican from South Pittsburg, says a Clinton presidency “would essentially be a third term for Obama” and argues the president is campaigning for her to keep his programs in place despite criticizing her eight years ago for the same things Trump points out.

“She promises higher taxes and more government – which flies in the face of what an overwhelming majority of the people in Tennessee’s 4th District want,” DesJarlais says in an email response to questions.

However, a report from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget shows Trump’s budget plans would make the national debt increase by $5.3 trillion over a decade, much higher than Clinton’s proposals would, according to a the Wall Street Journal.

Clinton is proposing tax increases on wealthy households and businesses to cover $1.65 trillion in increased spending over 10 years for college education, infrastructure and paid family leave, according to the article, while Trump is proposing to cut spending by $1.2 trillion but trim revenue by $5.8 trillion through tax reductions and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. His plans also include increased federal borrowing.

In spite of those prognostications, DesJarlais doesn’t expect Republican majorities in the Tennessee General Assembly to be “enthused” about a Clinton administration and says he expects them to “remain vigilant” against a Washington agenda being forced on them at the expense of Tennesseans.

DesJarlais, considered one of the most conservative members of Congress, has voted more than 30 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He says the Republican Party has a program to replace it, which includes health savings accounts and allows companies to compete across state lines.

“Expanding Medicaid remains a matter for the state Legislature to decide,” he states.

“It has already been summarily rejected multiple times, and as long as any expansion plan is authorized under Obamacare, we should remain skeptical that it will do anything other than provide minimal coverage at exorbitant costs.

“I don’t anticipate that the voice of Hillary Clinton would be any more impactful on this matter than Barack Obama’s.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, however, sees quite a few “significant differences” between Clinton and Obama and points out she is “more hawkish” on foreign policy than Obama.

“But unquestionably, with her experience in government, she’s more of a known quantity, and that should reassure conservatives, because you don’t want to bet your country on a rookie,” says Cooper, a Nashville Democrat.

“You want to make sure your kids’ and grandkids’ future is going to be protected. And sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting when you have a pig in a poke.”

Cooper says he believes a Clinton presidency would have “a very positive impact” on Tennessee because she was a next-door neighbor in Arkansas for 18 years and vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia is a neighbor on the state’s east side.

“Tennessee is sandwiched in the middle, so they know our kind of folks and they know our part of the Sun Belt,” Cooper adds.

The nation needs a stronger economy, faster growth and more jobs, and a Clinton-Kaine administration would understand the “special needs the South has,” Cooper points out.

“One of those needs is better health care because we are kind of the buckle of the obesity belt and of the opioid belt and several other serious health problems. We have also, unlike several of our neighboring states, refused to expand Medicaid, which is terrible for our state. We’re losing a billion dollars a year,” Cooper says.

Cooper says he hopes Clinton can solve problems within the Affordable Care Act and work “constructively” with the state Legislature to pass a plan so Tennessee doesn’t continue losing more than $1 billion annually in taxes paid without Medicaid expansion.

He’s concerned the Republican supermajorities in the Tennessee Legislature will reject Clinton proposals out of hand like they have Obamacare, including Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal.

Cooper points out the governor called a special session to maintain $60 million in federal transportation funds this summer because a new underage drinking and driving law conflicted with federal law. Yet state lawmakers are reticent to “go after” the funding tied to Insure Tennessee, he says.

“Speaker Harwell is working on the 3-Star plan right now. Whatever the governor or she come up with, we’ve got to solve this problem, because we can’t lose this money every year going forward,” Cooper says.

“Tennesseans are paying taxes to give money to other states. We should claim our share here.”

Immigration argument

Casada accuses Clinton of being “on record articulating open borders,” even though during the final debate she says her statements with those words deal with energy, not jobs or the movement of people.

“I just feel like it would be an influx of people that are not only illegal, if you will,” says Casada. “Of course, under her program they really won’t be illegal because she’ll open up the borders. But it will be an influx of people who aren’t looking to become citizens and further be a strain on the economy through our social service programs.”

Political commentator Nolan agrees Clinton will hold on to Obama’s refugee programs and might even want to expand the numbers, noting, “There will be pushback about that,” especially if it takes legislation.

Clinton likely would use a victory to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, he adds, but passing it in the House will be an “uphill” battle.

“I don’t think we’re going to see an epiphany by Republicans to suddenly come over and support that,” Nolan adds.

Cooper, meanwhile, says much of the candidates’ talk about immigration is “campaign rhetoric,” from both camps, and he points out the Republican-controlled Senate passed an immigration bill in 2013 by a 68-32 vote yet the bill has never reached a vote in the House.

“That’s insane,” Cooper says. “But that also shows you how close we are to a policy consensus.”

He contends it’s about “as crazy” as the Tennessee not taking a vote on Insure Tennessee during a 2015 special session and two regular sessions since then.

Conservatives won’t say one good word about Clinton. Casada even points out the Bill Clinton campaign put her in charge of quelling the women who accused her husband of rape and sexual assault during his presidential runs.

But Fitzhugh says he respects Clinton, calling her “one of the most prepared persons ever to become president.”

Her road to the White House became tougher last week amid the FBI’s resumption of an investigation into her email while serving as secretary of State.

Besides that hurdle, Clinton might not be “lovable” and her personality probably doesn’t suit everyone, Fitzhugh adds,

But, he notes, “I think she has an excellent head on her shoulders. I think she knows the Constitution, she knows American government. She has the ability to work through issues and get good people around her to do that.

“There’s no quick fix. If you’re one who believes America’s down the tubes, it’s going to take a while to bring it back up through those tubes. And if you think we’re moving in the right direction, these things work slowly. It’s not gonna happen overnight.”

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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