federal funding

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.

Continue reading

TN politicians comment on government shutdown

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

McPeak pushes continued fed subsidies to U.S. senators

Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak urged Congress on Wednesday to continue federal cost-sharing payments to insurers, arguing the subsidies are the key to strengthening insurance markets and potentially bringing down costs next year.

Further from Michael  Collins’ report:

Appearing before a Senate panel, McPeak insisted the payments should not be seen as an “insurer bailout.”

To the contrary, she said, cost-sharing funding “ensures that some of our most vulnerable consumers receive assistance for copays and deductibles that are required to be paid under federal law.”

McPeak’s testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee came during the first of four hearings focused on strengthening the individual health insurance market after the collapse of the GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the panel, said he hopes lawmakers will reach a consensus by the end of next week and approve bipartisan legislation by the end of the month to stabilize the individual health insurance market and guarantee that affordable coverage is available for those who want it.

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam speaks to the panel today.

McQueen to DeVos: Fed education budget cuts will hurt ‘some of your biggest supporters’

In letters to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen is opposing the proposed elimination of a federal program for teacher training and retention that sent $38 million to Tennessee last year, reports The Tennessean.

McQueen wrote two letters – the first in June, saying the budget cut would hurt students in public schools across the state, especially in rural areas where President Donald Trump had strong support in the 2016 election. A second letter sent Friday says 42,000 students in private schools would be hurt, too, by the elimination of Title II, part A funds in the upcoming federal budget. DeVos has been an active supporter of charter schools and school voucher programs.

She emphasized her point in an interview Friday with the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee.

“Our tone here is: We want to make sure you understand, this is going to be very impactful for our rural counties in ways that maybe you haven’t thought through,” McQueen said. “We are at a point where these decisions will probably impact some of your biggest supporters.”

…The state recieved $38 million in Title II funds from the federal government in 2016-17, according to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. That money also goes to the recruitment and retention of educators.

DeVos’ office responded (to the first letter) by saying that states had not used those funds well in the past, McQueen said.

“We would disagree with that because in Tennessee we don’t believe we have misused that by any stretch of the imagination,” McQueen said in the interview.