Tennessee editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Dec. 9

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn., on routine matters lost as Congress squabbles:

Having a Congress that doesn’t work is punishing America, and the nightmare is about to get a lot worse.

As a result of Washington’s inability to agree on hardly anything, a variety of evil consequences is snowballing. Here’s a sampling:

— More than a million recession victims will lose long-term employment benefits over the holidays.

— The price of a gallon of milk could quadruple in late winter.

— Government payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients may fall sharply.

— Tax breaks will expire temporarily for people in states like Tennessee which have no state income tax.

That’s because this conflicted Congress has failed to meet action deadlines that are normally routine.

The political parties, naturally, blame each other for the state of affairs in what The Associated Press called “a dog of a year.”

Efforts to seek a deal on the major issues aren’t expected to address a stack of routine unfinished business, it said.

How that works is illustrated in what AP called “the milk price fiasco.”

A broad disagreement about legislation to set spending levels for farm and feeding programs revolves around food stamp funding. A House measure calls for food stamp cuts of $40 billion over a decade, while a Senate version seeks cuts of $4 billion.

Congressional inability to resolve that issue would return the nation to a dairy law passed in Depression years. That would set in motion a chain of events that would potentially multiply the price of a gallon of milk four times.

It’s a shame that congressional elections are almost a year away.




Dec. 9

The Tennessean on fast-tracking executions is dangerous:

The state of Tennessee is infusing its commitment to the death penalty with a new level of zeal that should worry anyone who understands that our system of justice is carried out by humans and thus is fallible.

The Correction Department and the state attorney general have suddenly pushed for the state Supreme Court to set execution dates for 10 people on death row, four more than Tennessee has put to death in the past 53 years. When such a complex and deliberative process undergoes this kind of dramatic change, we have to ask what is really driving it.

Some say that the recent death by natural causes of the most notorious killer on the row, Paul Dennis Reid, is the reason. By this argument, the state does not want to “disappoint” anyone else who wants to see killers meet the same end as their victims.

Is this the best that we can do? Even if you discount the wish by some murderers on death row that they be executed rather than spend the rest of their lives in prison, the state is setting itself up for mistakes of multiple kinds.

The state getting its hands on a new lethal drug seems to have some correctional officials very eager, whether out of curiosity or because they fear someone will mount a legal challenge to the drug because they have the chance to use it. After all, it’s only been used a handful of times in other states. Will state officials treat the 10 condemned as guinea pigs?

This is not a chemistry experiment. It is supposed to be a component of a society that strives for justice and carries certain legal rights for everyone.

Yes, quite a few inmates on death row have been there for decades. Is that worse than the cost and the consequences of botching an execution or executing the wrong person?

Tennessee officials need to stop and think this through.




Dec. 10

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel on Governor should push legislators to expand Medicaid:

Indecision in the governor’s office over Medicaid expansion and intransigence among Republican legislators about anything related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is costing Tennessee jobs and possibly more than $2 billion during the next few years.

The state has until Jan. 1 to agree to an expansion or forego the first $300 million in increased Medicaid funding for next year. Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislators should move forward with Medicaid expansion, which is in the best interests of Tennessee’s hospitals and low-income residents.

Among the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is an expansion of Medicaid to cover people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $32,499 for a family of four.

Tennessee is one of 23 states that have not approved expansion. Haslam has proposed expanding Medicaid, administered in Tennessee as TennCare, if the federal government would allow a voucher program to enable residents to purchase coverage, but little progress appears to have been made and time is running out. By opting out — or through the current course of inaction — the state government would deny coverage to approximately 400,000 low-income state residents.

The law has a juicy carrot to dangle in front of the states — the federal government would pay 100 percent of the additional cost through 2016 and phase down its support to 90 percent by 2020. The federal government supplies about two-thirds of existing Medicaid funding.

Hospital layoffs across Tennessee show that crunching the Medicaid numbers is not a mere academic exercise. The Affordable Care Act cut compensation for indigent care to hospitals because Medicaid expansion was to have reduced the number of uninsured seeking treatment in emergency rooms. Without Medicaid expansion, hospitals will lose billions over the next few years, according to the Tennessee Hospital Association, leading to job cuts and hospital closures that would leave entire communities without convenient access to care.

The jobs already are going away. Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville will shed more than 1,000 positions by the end of the year. The Tennessean has reported that rural hospitals across the state have announced layoffs.

Haslam has said he will not make a move without lawmakers’ approval. Given the political capital the popular governor has amassed, he should reconsider that approach. According to a Vanderbilt University poll last year, 60 percent of Tennesseans support Medicaid expansion. At this point, no one in either party has announced plans to run against the first-term Republican. Haslam can afford to be bold and show leadership by advocating for the expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee.



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