federal funding

Feds approve $26M for new veterans home in Bradley County

Press release from Department of Veterans Affairs

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Tennessee State Veterans Home Executive Director Ed Harries announced the receipt of the $26,224,263 award from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) State Veterans Home Grants program today.  The grant will provide the federal funding needed to build the future Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home.

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TN delegation split on $1.3 trillion federal spending vote

The Tennessee congressional delegation split in voting on a $1.3 trillion federal spending plan that passed the U.S. House 256-157 on Thursday and the Senate 65-32 early Friday morning. The measure funds the government through Sept. 30.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander voted yes and, prior to the vote, issued a press release praising several of the spending items in the package. Republican Sen. Bob Corker voted no and, prior to the vote, declared in a floor speech that the bill was the most “grotesque” seen in his 11 years of service.

In the House, yes votes in the Tennessee delegation came from Republican Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Ootelwah, Phil Roe of Johnson City and David Kustoff of Germantown along with Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville.

The Tennessee no votes came from Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, Diane Black of Gallatin, John J. “Jimmy” Duncan of Knoxville and Democrat Steve Cohen of Memphis.

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Haslam: Gas tax hike gives TN ‘a step up in the game’ under Trump’s infrastructure proposal

Gov. Bill Haslam says the state fuel tax increase approved by the legislature last year puts Tennessee in a good position to leverage federal transportation funding under the new infrastructure plan proposed by President Trump on Monday, reports Michael Collins.

The Trump proposal envisions $1.5 trillion in new investments in highways, bridges and mass transit over a 10-year period, but only $200 billion would be in new federal money – the rest in state and local funding or private investment, according to the New York Times. States would have to put in a bigger share of the money for projects, or get private investment, to trigger the new federal funding.

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TN politicians comment on government shutdown

Comments from some members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation on the partial government shutdown.

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DesJarlais: If earmarks are restored, ‘I can be more of a spokesman for the people’

Even some conservatives – including Tennessee’s U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais — seem open to return to earmarks since President Trump floated the idea, reports The Hill.

But don’t call them earmarks: lawmakers say they’re in favor of “congressionally directed spending.”

In a sign of the changing attitudes on Capitol Hill, conservatives are divided on whether to reverse the earmark ban in place since Republicans took over the House majority after the 2010 midterm elections.

Conservative leaders like House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) reject the idea, warning that allowing lawmakers to carve out spending for projects specifically designed to benefit their districts would undercut Trump’s “drain the swamp” message.

…But even some Freedom Caucus members sound open to a return to earmarks ahead of House Rules Committee hearings next week on whether to revive the practice.

“I don’t know that I’m opposed to it,” Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), a Freedom Caucus member, told The Hill. “We’re spending more money than ever and it’s still going out, but it doesn’t seem to come to my district.”

If earmarks were restored, “I can be more of a spokesman for the people in Tennessee who need it,” DesJarlais continued. “There is an overpass in Rutherford County that we need to get funding for. We’ve got things up in Nashville, the Percy Priest Reservoir … so yeah, I would like to have a better voice.

“I don’t know if earmarks is the answer. I’ve never had them, so I don’t know if it’s good or not.”

Other conservatives also expressed openness to allowing earmarks or something similar, saying that ensuring money for specific projects would give the legislative branch more power.

… Trump said at a White House meeting with roughly two dozen lawmakers on Tuesday that Congress should consider allowing earmarks again.

He suggested that doing so would allow Congress to function better, lamenting that the “levels of hatred” among Republicans and Democrats are “out of control.”

“Maybe we should think about it,” Trump said. “Maybe all of you should think about going back to a form of earmarks. You should do it.”

“We have to put better controls because it got a little out of hand, but that brings people together,” Trump added.

Fed funding of health insurance for 74,000 TN children threatened; TN Democrats see ‘political games’

Absent action soon by Congress, funding for a federal program that provides health insurance coverage to 74,000 Tennessee children and pregnant mothers could soon run dry, reports the Times Free Press. State officials, including Gov. Bill Haslam, are worried about the possibility.

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Corker seeks inclusion of ‘backstop’ in Senate tax overhaul; otherwise ‘very possible’ he’ll vote no

U.S. Senate Republican leaders are considering last-minute changes in federal tax overhaul legislation, including a provision pushed by Tennessee’s Bob Corker that could eliminate some tax cuts if the new law winds up adding more to the federal deficit than projected, reports Politico.

Two critical Republican swing votes, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Bob Corker of Tennessee, on Monday left open the possibility that they could vote against the tax plan in a key committee vote scheduled for Tuesday if changes weren’t made to their liking. That would tank the bill before it could reach the floor, putting more pressure on leadership to quickly make revisions.

…A handful of deficit hawks — including Corker and Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma — are discussing a trigger mechanism that would kick in and potentially change tax rates if the economic growth needed to defray the cost of the tax overhaul doesn’t materialize.

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Feds restore Medicare billing privileges to West TN doctor who had bipartisan backing

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has restored Medicare billing privileges to  Dr. Bryan Merrick, who was cut off last year over what appeared to be very minor paperwork errors. Tennessee Star has quotes from some political figures who got involved – notably including Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who had called for Senate hearings on the regulation used in cutting off Merrick, and former state Democratic Chairman Roy Herron, who was acting as the physician’s attorney.

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HHS chief’s June Washington-to-Nashville trip cost $17,760

A June trip to Nashville from Washington is being cited in national news media as an example of how U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew by charter airplane at taxpayer expense rather than taking less expensive commercial flights.

From Politico, which says Price has taken 24 charter flights since early May at a cost of more than $300,000 to taxpayers:

HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.

But many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.

A Tennessean report of Price’s visit to Nashville at the time says he made a morning visit to Dispensary of Hope, a subsidiary of Saint Thomas Health and Ascension that ships medications across the country to free clinics and charitable pharmacies. He called it “wonderfully inspiring.” In the afternoon, Price made a speech, centered on opioid addiction, to a conference on drug abuse organized by Healthy Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing.

UPDATE/NOTE: In another report, Politico highlights an August chartered private jet trip to St. Simons Island, Ga. — where he owns property, and had the jet arriving Friday for a Sunday meeting – along with providing more details on the Nashville trip. Seems he owns a condo in Nashville and his son lives in the city — and they had lunch during the trip. Excerpt on the Nashville part:

The afternoon (Nashville) event was the first-ever Healthy Tennessee Summit organized by Dr. Manny Sethi, an orthopedic surgeon and prominent local Republican who’s met with President Donald Trump and was featured as an “Obamacare victim” in a White House video posted in June.

Sethi, who says he hasn’t given money to Price, has nonetheless donated $15,000 to the Tennessee Republican Party since May 2016; the party’s Twitter feed hailed Sethi last year as “one of our closest friends.” Sethi also said that Price has been a mentor for years.

In his remarks, Price reminisced about his longtime fondness for Sethi, and both men referenced Price’s personal ties to the city — chiefly, that his only son went to Vanderbilt University and still lives in the city. Price also owns a condominium in Nashville valued at more than $150,000, according to county records.

Price’s agenda in Nashville, which was planned just days in advance and came as Senate Republicans were trying to pass a bill repealing major parts of Obamacare, was also lightly scheduled, say individuals with knowledge of Price’s travels. Price spent less than 90 minutes combined between his two scheduled events — about an hour touring the Dispensary of Hope medication dispensary in the morning, and about 20 minutes giving his speech at the Healthy Tennessee Summit in the afternoon

Dept. of Safety returning $112K in misspent fed forfeiture funds

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security had $112,614 in inappropriate spending on food and catering that it received from federal forfeiture funds, according to a U.S. Department of Justice audit. Department officials say they will  reimburse the federal government for the questioned expenditures.

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