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Capitol View Commentary: March 19, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: March 19, 2010

CREATED Mar 19, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

March 19, 2010

MARCH MADNESS; THE BIG VOTE; INSIDE POLITICS; WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

March Madness! It's everywhere this weekend as the nation's three week-long college basketball sports festival is in the full swing of the Big Dance (as the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments are called) with playing continuing into early April.

One of the major parts of the excitement and interest in March Madness involves filling out your brackets, picking which teams of the field of 65 will make it to the Final Four and which team win ultimately win the national championship . This is serious business for many people, which makes you wonder why the politicians want to get involved (except to get some cheap publicity).

But they do want to be involved and they do get some publicity. President Barack Obama, for the second year in a row, is making his picks through ESPN and even one of our Tennessee gubernatorial candidates is getting into the act. I got an e-mail from the campaign of Republican Zach Wamp urging me to come to the candidate's web site and fill out my brackets there. It said I would be competing with the Chattanooga congressman (and others) and that whoever did the best in picking the winning teams would receive as his or her prize the chance to travel around for a day and campaign with Zach what the Wamp e-mail describes as "Big Red RV."

Wow! By the way, there is no truth to the rumor that second prize is riding around and campaigning with Zach in the "Big Red RV" for two days. J

THE BIG VOTE

Once again we have a come to a potentially climactic vote in the fight over the future of national health care.  The House of Representatives is set to decide this weekend (March 19-22) whether to, first, go along with the bill passed by the Senate late last year ("deem it be approved") and then vote on a second proposal that incorporates additional changes to the Senate plan which House and Senate members have supposedly agreed upon.

This process is quaintly called "reconciliation" although it has been anything but that inside the halls of Congress or across the country the last few weeks. Even though this process has been used before by both political parties to pass major and controversial legislation, it has re-opened the whole debate about what is the proper way for our elected officials to go about approving legislation.

You know the old saying: "There are two things you should never watch too closely: How sausage is made and how legislation is approved." Well, reconciliation is the latest round of "sausage making" on the Hill, which while it appears to remove some of the more controversial "deals" made in the previous legislation (special consideration for states like Nebraska and Louisiana on health care funding), the reconciled bill seems to create new ones and leave other potentially controversial matters unresolved for now (abortion funding restrictions).

And then there is the whole issue of the House "deeming the Senate bill to be passed." That means there will be no "up or down" vote by House members on that proposal. Why would they want to do that? It's simple. It is to avoid the problem that Senator and 2004 Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry (and lots of other lawmakers) get into sometimes on the campaign trail. That is, charges by their opponents that "they voted for items in a piece of legislation, before they voted against it," or vice versa.

Because of the strong, vocal opposition to almost all of the pending health care plans in Congress, you can be sure many lawmakers in the House wish to only vote on the "reconciled bill" not what is in the Senate bill they don't support. But all this is rather hard to explain to folks who aren't political or public policy junkies. So some lawmakers like Nashville Democratic congressman Jim Cooper (who is a political and public policy junkie) said he preferred an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill. After all, this whole process of debating national health care has seemed to only further enhance public distrust in government. And, it appears that Congressman Cooper thinks, what seems to be a sleight-of-hand political maneuver (deeming the Senate bill approved), no matter how well intended, is likely to only make matters worse.

However, it appears Congressman Cooper and the Republicans have lost that vote and now the question is do the Democrats have the votes they need to pass the "reconciled" bill? The votes of our Tennessee congressman will be key. Already Congressman Bart Gordon, who voted against the original House health care bill, says he will vote "yes" this time. Gordon is not seeking re-election and neither is his Tennessee colleague John Tanner, who, so far, along with Cooper and Congressman Lincoln Davis, have not shown their cards and committed on how they will vote. With no Republican support expected, the vote in the House could be close enough that how these Democratic congressmen vote could make the difference one way or another.                         

  Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect that Congressman Cooper will vote in favor (especially with large area employers like Vanderbilt University issuing a last minute endorsement of the health care plan). I also suspect Congressman Tanner will vote "yes." Congressman Davis I suspect will most likely stay a "no" vote.

All this does the raise the question again: Despite their large majorities in both houses of Congress, why are the Democrats struggling so to govern, to pass anything on health care? Yes, their first attempts ran afoul of the 60-vote filibuster rule. But even there, the Democrats had 60 votes they thought they could call on. What they didn't plan were individual Senators taking the bill hostage at key times and the strong areas of disagreement between Democrats in the House and the Senate that made finding a consensus bill almost impossible (until perhaps now).

Faced with the likelihood of spending well over a year on this matter, and coming up with nothing to show for it, it appears the Democrats are finally coming together and could eke out a narrow victory in the House. Then it is on the Senate, where only 51 votes (not 60) are needed for approval this time. That should be achievable, although given the past history of this debate, who knows for sure.

A House victory is critical for President Obama. This has been his major focus almost since he took office. He's even delayed and now postponed an overseas trip to stay in Washington to help with the latest minute lobbying and a little arm-twisting that is likely to be necessary to get this matter approved.

Of course, this debate also has another Tennessee angle. Two GOP gubernatorial candidates are working hard to show that they are "protecting Tennesseans" from a government takeover of health care. As a member of the House, Congressman Wamp has taken to the floor pledging to use all his strength and do anything within his power to stop the health care legislation, particularly provisions that require everyone to have health care insurance or pay a penalty. Meantime, one of Wamp's opponents, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is trying to do his part from the General Assembly, urging quick House approval (the Senate has already done so) of a bill that would try to declare void any federal mandate for everyone to have health insurance and to get the State Attorney General to provide legal assistance if required.

Given the long-time precedence of federal law trumping state law, a lot of these efforts by Wamp and Ramsey may be just political theatre, but conservative votes in the August GOP primary are also at stake here. As are some pretty important and far-reaching public policy decisions that will impact this country for many years to come. This could be (finally) the weekend of decision. Or maybe not.

INSIDE POLITICS

My guest this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS is Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kim McMillan. The former State House Majority Leader and gubernatorial aide is running a spirited, if underfunded campaign against Mike McWherter, a Jackson businessman and the son of a popular former governor.

McMillan told me no one has suggested that she drop out and she seems to have absolutely no intention to do so, but unless the next campaign finance report, due in April, shows a major upswing, it is hard to see how she can mount a major challenge in August. But stranger things have happened.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on NewsChannel5 Plus. We are on Comcast and Charter cable channel 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2 Our air times are:

7:00 p.m……………………….Friday (March 19)

5:00 a.m & 5:30 p.m.…….Saturday (March 20)

5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m….Sunday (March 21)

  Don't forget if you live outside Nashville, you can watch excerpts from previous shows here at www.newschannel5.com

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?

I don't know if it's something in the water, the air or the sap rising in the trees as spring approaches.

But several times in recent days, I've seen events occur that has made me wonder: "What were they thinking?"

Now anybody can make a mistake, even a big one. Lord knows I have made my share and will likely make more in the future.

But when you read and watch news reports involving the recent incidents surrounding tourism PR guru Walt Baker (forwarding a racist e-mail), medical examiner Bruce Levy (arrested on felony drug charges), John Arriola and the Metro Court Clerk's office (bringing slot machines into the office for employee recreation), even the Brentwood youngsters involved in that bizarre St. Patrick's Day bank holdup (that resulted in their deaths), you have to ask what was going through folks' minds when they got caught up in all this?

I think sometimes it is technology, which not only enables us to do more, but in some cases, it may lead us to act so quickly we don't think through all the ramifications of our potential actions, and sometimes that can have devastating consequences.       

In some cases, such as County Clerk Arriola's, further reflection can give you the opportunity to step back and try and correct (apologize) matters (especially a top aide shoving a TV reporter). But in other cases, the permanent damage seems almost beyond repair.

But on a more positive note, sometimes we see some very good thinking in our community. Bravo to those who decorated (dressed) the Musica statue on Music Row for St. Patrick's Day. It was a prank that I think gave a chuckle and lift to the entire city. It could also open up a whole new area for civic booster efforts and perhaps fund raising, although I would urge some caution that we not get into somethink like this without thinking it through as well.

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