Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 26, 2010
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
February 26, 2010
THE SUMMIT; THE JOBS BILL; INSIDE POLITICS; FIGHTING A TV AD; A TENNCARE REPRIEVE?; WHY DIDN'T THEY THINK OF THIS BEFORE? MAY TOWN—AGAIN; 35 YEARS
So much for the great Washington health care summit televised for 9 HOURS on C-SPAN. They came, they saw, and they talked and talked and talked…right past each other. There appears to be very little common ground between Democrats and Republicans on this issue. It was mostly an opportunity to rehash the last year of debate inside the Beltway and across the country, with lots of the same old talking points rehashed as well.
It was a good day of national TV exposure for several of our state's elected leaders. During the brief part of the summit I watched, it was hard to find a camera angle where someone from Tennessee wasn't featured prominently. Senator Lamar Alexander emerged as the GOP's main spokesperson (more on his role later) and he even got into a disagreement with President Barack Obama about whether the Democrat's health care plans would cause an increase in insurance premiums.
Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn also got to speak, extolling the virtues of allowing health insurance companies to sell their products across state lines, a policy area where there is some general agreement on the concept (if not the details of such an effort). Finally, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper spoke and again reminded his colleagues that one day soon health care reform also has to be about helping to lower our nation's exploding national debt.
So what happens now? The President asked the Republicans to do "some soul-searching" about what kinds of health care changes they could support, although he added he did not think much common ground existed. He's right and that leaves the Democrats with some soul-searching of their own to do. Is there enough agreement among their own members of Congress to pass a bill through both houses? And are they willing to take the political heat of doing it by the process known (ironically) as "reconciliation," where only a constitutional majority (51 votes, not 60 to shut off filibusters and end debate) is required in the Senate.
I think this is what the Democrats will do. They know the Republicans (who have repeatedly won the PR battle in this controversy) will beat them up again, even though (according to an NPR story I heard a few days ago) the reconciliation process has been used before, by both parties, to pass major and controversial health care legislation.
Given that situation, I think the Democrats believe they would rather have some kind of approved final health care reform bill to show for their years-long efforts, rather than giving up after getting so close. That will surely help them with their base voters, although can it re-energize them and also bring back many swing or independent voters? Maybe or maybe not, and that's why the President is also right when he says the ultimate determining factor of who's right in this seemingly never ending health care debate will be decided by voters in the off-year elections this fall.
THE JOBS BILL
It didn't take long for the honeymoon to end for new GOP Senator Scott Brown. His election electrified conservatives all across the country as he took over the seat once held by liberal legend Ted Kennedy and effectively stopped efforts to overhaul national health in their tracks in Washington.
But then the new Senator voted in favor of cutting off debate on the new jobs bill that was pending in the upper chamber. It passed and his former conservative supporters are up in arms with Senator Brown, already threatening to defeat him when he is up for re-election in two years.
See why it's so hard to practice any kind of bi-partisanship politics in Washington.
Another senator who may come in for some questioning about his votes on the jobs bill is Tennessee's Lamar Alexander. First, he voted against cutting off debate, issuing a statement from his office accusing Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of "reject(ing) a bipartisan bill supported by the White House and many senators and instead forc(ing) through a partisan proposal." In the statement Senator Alexander also complained "this new bill will do only a fraction of what the original bill would have done to help businesses create jobs and ignores key benefits for unemployed Americans that are set to expire this week."
But would you believe it? Just a few days later, Senator Alexander voted for the jobs bill he had so strongly criticized. Why the apparent flip flop? In an article on NashvillePost.com ((2/25) the Senator's press secretary, Jim Jeffries explained: "Majority Leader Reid wouldn't allow Republican amendments. His (first) vote was against ending debate on the bill."
OK, fine. But the bill was not changed at all before the final vote on approval. So why did Senator Alexander vote yes this time? In a new statement from his office, he explains: "I voted for this bill because it provides tax incentives for businesses to hire unemployed workers; permits small businesses to deduct their capital investment for taxes, which gives them more money to create jobs; and provides much-needed funds for our highways."
In his position as head of the GOP Conference, Senator Alexander is in charge of coming up with the talking points for Republicans to use in supporting or opposing legislation. You can see his work on display currently in the Republican mantra (that he and others repeated at the health care summit). It goes like this: We need to back up and start all over again on health care. Congress is incapable of passing anything as comprehensive as national health care reform, and that it is arrogant to try to do so.
Usually Senator Alexander does masterful work in this area. But on the jobs bill, he may have been a bit too strident in his first statements if he intended to come back later and vote for this measure. I mean if you decide you think the glass is half-full rather than half-empty leave yourself some wiggle room to change your position if you decide to do so. That didn't seem to happen here.
Professor Marc Schwerdt of David Lipscomb University is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. We'll discuss the health care summit and all the other issues surrounding why Washington seems to be broken and unable to act decisively on just about any major issue.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network, including at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning (February 28) on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5.
You can also watch the show on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter Channels 250 as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel at 5.2
Our air times are:
Friday (February 26)…………7:00 p.m.
Saturday (February 27)…….5:00 a.m.
Saturday (February 27)……..5:30 p.m.
Sunday (February 28)………..5:00 a.m.
Sunday (February 28)………..12:30 p.m.
If you live outside the Nashville TV market or don't have cable access you can find excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NewsChannel5 website.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
And then there were two.
State Senate Minority Leader Democrat Jim Kyle of Memphis has given up his bid to be governor, leaving just two candidates in the August primary. Originally, the field was up to five candidates, before both Ward Cammack and Senator Roy Herron left the field. The timing of Kyle's announcement came as something of a surprise, but perhaps not being able to raise money during the current legislative session had something to do with it. A note on THE KNOX VIEWS blog site quoted Kyle as saying: "Hard work alone will not be enough for me to be successful in this campaign." Senator Kyle's official withdrawal statement issued by his statement also mentioned the economy and his time-consuming duties as Senate Leader as reasons he is leaving the race.
So what happens now? Well, clearly the Kyle withdrawal further solidifies Jackson businessman Mike McWherter's strong position as the front runner for the nomination. Kim McMillan of Clarksville, former House Majority Leader is still in the field. And her campaign clearly sees an opportunity here. But based on the campaign so far, it is hard to image her being able to strongly contest McWherter, the son of the popular former governor, Ned McWherter.
She says she is in the race to stay. But I strongly suspect the McMillan campaign will now be under strong pressure to get out, leaving an open field for Mike McWherter to win the August primary. That would not only save him some money, but allow him to spend some of the funds he has (and it's still a lot less than his likely GOP opponents) on building a positive image for himself on TV this summer, while the Republicans cut each other up in their 4-way primary.
In fact, I think this may be the best (and maybe only) scenario that keeps a Democrat in the governor's mansion after next January. However, raising a lot more money and building some excitement among Democrats in the state has to happen too, and so far, it ain't happening.
FIGHTING A TV AD
For two weeks now the introductory TV ad of GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam has been the only one running across the state of Tennessee. And Haslam, the Mayor of Knoxville, has a reported million dollars in ad creation and placement costs to prove it.
So far his GOP primary opponents have not answered with ads of their own. They frankly can't afford it. But that doesn't mean they aren't trying to discredit the Haslam ad anyway they can. And in this regard they are getting some support.
A Knoxville TV station (WATE-TV, Channel 6) has subjected the Haslam ad to a "Truth Test" conducted by long-time news anchor Gene Patterson. That analysis reportedly finds several claims made in the ad are "misleading" specifically the 11,000 jobs the mayor claims to have created through his family's company, Pilot Oil. Yes, the jobs have been created the station maintains, but only 1,700 have been in Tennessee. The analysis raises some of the same concerns about an ad claim about "the thousands of jobs" the Mayor claims he has recruited to Knoxville. The TV station's analysis says many came from existing businesses, not new ones coming to town.
Another area of concern for the "Truth Test" done by the Knoxville TV station are claims in the Haslam ad that the Mayor is responsible for Knoxville having "the lowest property tax rate in 50 years." Technically, that's true. But that's because of a recent property reappraisal, which requires, by law, not by a mayoral initiative, that the tax rate be lowered. The analysis points out that Mayor Haslam has actually gotten a property tax increase approved while in office. Because of that, and because people's property values have risen over the years, they likely are paying higher taxes than in the past, even though the tax rate may be the lowest in the last half-century.
A personal aside, Mayor Haslam is not the first gubernatorial candidate to try and make this somewhat misleading claim. I can remember both current Governor Phil Bredesen and former Nashville Mayor Richard Fulton made similar claims about Nashville having the lower property tax rates when they ran for governor in the past.
The bottom line for the Knoxville TV station's analysis: "..like most campaign ads, there's truth and there's spin. This ad has a little of both."
But that's not stopping the other GOP candidates from trying to further pump up the Channel 6 report.
Says Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (according to a CITY PAPER story 2/26): "The tax rate (in Knoxville) is lower, but taxes are higher than they were when he went into office."
Says Sam Edelen, a spokesman for Congressman Zach Wamp's campaign in a Wamp news release: "The 11,000 job creation claim being made by Mayor Haslam appears to be bogus and just plain made up because the facts don't support it. Perhaps his father or brother could make that claim, but not Mayor Haslam."
Talk about pouring it on, the Wamp campaign's news release is even quoting one its own opponents, Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons in criticizing Mayor Haslam: "The fact is the citizens of Knoxville are paying 15% more in property taxes are a result of Mayor Haslam's proposal his first year in office. That's the fact."
So what's the bottom line on all this. It's probably not what Ramsey, Wamp and Gibbons are hoping will happen. Just like the criticism of his refusal to disclose his sources of income, Mayor Haslam is sticking by the accuracy of his ad, and I wouldn't expect he will back up on that, (even though the ad is nearing the end of its planned run on the airways and will soon be gone). Regardless, his opponents don't have the money to challenge him with TV ads of their own, and I doubt this controversy over the ad can be sustained long enough to create much of a stir. And besides, most voters haven't really begun to focus on the governor's race anyway, and probably won't till May or June at the earliest.
A TENNCARE REPRIEVE?
Based on some hearings held recently here on Capitol Hill in Nashville, the latest round of TennCare cuts recommended by Governor Phil Bredesen in his budget are going to be very tough to make. When the people who will have live (or more likely die) because of these cutbacks are sitting in the committee room pleading their case, it can get very uncomfortable for lawmakers to say the least.
That's why the recent announcement by federal officials that it will allow the state to keep $121 million could be a real godsend. TennCare officials say they will likely recommend using the new funds to get rid of some of the worse cuts such as the $10,000 annual cap on in-patient hospital care, the elimination of physical, speech and occupational therapy coverage and limits on lab and x-ray services, non-emergency outpatient services and health practitioner office visits.
This could also help struggling Tennessee hospitals like Nashville's General Hospital or The Med in Memphis. But, don't be fooled, the new funds are not enough to make up for the full amount of TennCare cuts being planned which total close to $370 million. So while this is some gain, there is still likely to be some pain. And I still wonder if the new hospital "coverage fee" tax which hospitals are talking about will be found legal by the feds? Or will it wind up like the bed tax of a few years ago which Washington rejected as not really being a tax, put a way to take money from hospitals and then just give it right back.
It is really going to be a tough budget.
WHY DIDN'T THEY THINK OF THIS BEFORE?
While Metro's budget constraints may make this difficult to institute fully or quickly, it is a brilliant idea to have our Schools and our Library system sharing resources. The Limitless Libraries program, which will start by the end of the spring semester in four Metro High schools, will reportedly make up to 1.5 million items from our public libraries available to our students, with the materials being delivered to their school libraries. That includes books, audio books, DVDs and CDs. There will be electronic books available as well.
Kudos to Mayor Karl Dean, Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register and Metro Library Director Donna Nicely for overcoming any turf wars or other difficulties to make this happen. Let's hope one day soon we can find the money to make this service available to all our students.
It's back….one more time!
On Tuesday (March 2) the Metro Council is set to hold a public hearing on the massive and controversial May Town Center development proposal for the rural Bells Bend area of Nashville.
This is an issue that has been cussed and discussed around the city for several years now. On a couple of occasions it appeared to be dead, especially after the city's Planning Commission rejected the plan saying it was too intensive for that area.
But now property owners want to make their case to the Council which will consider the bill on second reading after the public hearing is over. According to a story on THE TENNESSEAN's web site (February 26), council rules may require a second reading vote be deferred until March 16. Regardless, the proposal won't be easy to pass. As it currently stands, to gain final approval on third reading, it will require 27 or a two-thirds vote by the Council. While that sometimes happens on zoning matters, it appears to be very difficult in this case given the strong opposition that has been mounted both in Bells Bend and around the county.
But now there is word (TENNESSEAN, 2/26) that proponents of the May Town plan are willing to scale back their mixed-use development proposal in order to receive Council approval. Does that mean they might also go back to the Planning Commission to try and seek approval? That would further elongate the approval process, but if the Commission changes its mind it would then only require 21 votes for approval, a much easier level of support to achieve.
I doubt city planners will change their minds and I know a lot of the opponents of the plan will not. They likely suspect that this is just an effort to get "the nose of the camel into the tent" and that once built, May Town will just grow and grow, overwhelming the infrastructure and destroying the Bells Bend community they love.
While Nashville needs to have a serious conversation about how we are going to handle our future growth and development, especially since our tax base is not growing at the level needed to sustain city services without future tax increases of some kind, this is probably not the development that will make that happen.
By the way, if the Council did approve the May Town plan, it would be up to Mayor Dean to sign or veto the bill. The Mayor has been very quiet and guarded in his comments about May Town. So I am not sure anyone can say with certainty what he would do if faced with this scenario. But if he did veto the plan (and it remains disapproved by the Planning Commission) it would take 30 Council votes (a ¾ majority) to override his action. That would indeed be very hard to do I think.
March 3rd will mark the 35th anniversary of the day I first came to work for Channel 5. I can't believe how quickly the years have seemed to go by. I have likely gone from being the youngest person in the newsroom (which I know I was back in 1975 when I first came on board) to now likely being the oldest person there. (OK, Hope Hines may be older, but don't tell him I said so). LOL
Now I've had a few service breaks, to work in the Mayor's office and even for a few years at another TV station, but I have always enjoyed my time at NewsChannel5, which still totals to well over 25 years. A lot has changed in Nashville, in the nation and the world. And a lot has changed (and is still changing) in the news business. But one thing that hasn't changed is that the station is full of wonderful people, who are highly professional and great folks to work with. I have been blessed in my professional career to work with and for a lot of good folks, and that continues to be true today both here at DVL and at Channel 5.
35 years is a long time. I am just glad I began when I was 12 (no, actually I was 23).