NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Republican leaders in the state House and Senate are at odds about who should go first on taking up Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to extend health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.
The governor has called a special session starting Feb. 2 to consider the proposal that many Republicans are wary of because it would tap federal money available under President Barack Obama's health care law.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga announced at the start of Friday's floor session that he wanted to dispel what he called a "silly notion" among Senate Republicans that they would wait for the measure to clear several committees in lower chamber before taking up measure. That would put House Republicans in the position of having to cast politically difficult votes before their Senate colleagues.
"That will not happen," McCormick said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters that he has long held the position that the Senate shouldn't get involved in the measure until it gains traction in the House.
"I want to make sure it passes the House before we take it up," he said. "I think that's logical."
Ramsey said his position should come as no surprise.
"I've been very up front with the governor and everybody else that that's what should happen," he said.
Haslam had a different recollection when asked about the contretemps by reporters on Friday.
"It's always been our understanding that the effort would proceed simultaneously," the governor said.
Haslam added that he's "not so hung up" on the legislative process for the measure dubbed "Insure Tennessee."
"I think the people of Tennessee want this to be heard, they don't want some procedural issue to stop this from being heard," he said.
Under a law enacted last year that supporters called the "Stop Obamacare Act," the Legislature must pass a resolution to permit the governor strike a deal to expand Medicaid in the state. Unlike regular bills, which have versions introduced in both the House and Senate, resolutions usually await approval in one chamber before coming up for a vote in the other.
House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley called it a "pretty smooth move" for the Senate to punt the resolution to the lower chamber because it means the measure wouldn't even need to have a Senate sponsor to proceed.
"But it probably doesn't matter," Fitzhugh said. "All of us have to vote on it, one way or another."
Haslam has said he expects to need the votes of all Democrats in the Legislature to get the resolution passed. Democrats control 26 of the 50 votes needed to pass measures in the House, and just five of 17 needed in the Senate.
Fitzhugh said Democrats are still awaiting briefings from the Haslam administration before deciding whether to take a caucus position of getting behind the governor's plan. As of Friday, only 10 fellow House Democrats have said they're comfortable enough with the measure to vote for it, he said.