KINGSPORT — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander told Rotarians on Wednesday he won’t support a federal government shutdown to prevent Obamacare — also known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — once Congress returns to work next month.
Instead, he said, Senate Republicans should support his and fellow Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker’s proposal to reduce entitlement spending by $1 trillion over 10 years to make Medicare solvent.
Alexander also again called for getting rid of a medical devices tax, giving employers flexibility to give workers wellness incentives in their health insurance and allowing people to buy coverage across state lines.
“I understand the passion who are against Obamacare,” Alexander told reporters before his talk. “I voted against it 23 times. But I’m not with the shut-down-the-government crowd.”
Alexander also noted President Barack Obama’s administration has announced another ACA delay. The Department of Health and Human Services informed insurance companies earlier this week that it will not sign final agreements on insurance plans to be offered on the federal health care exchanges until mid-September. Finalization of the plans is crucial to online enrollment in the federal exchanges set to happen on Oct. 1. The Obama administration previously had announced a one-year delay for employers to execute the mandate for all workers to have health care coverage.
In introducing Alexander to club members, Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips joked he was a “poor, poor man” who walked across the state running for governor in 1978 by wearing one shirt — his signature red plaid flannel shirt.
“When Lamar was elected governor, I’m sure it was a surprise for many, many people,” Phillips observed.
Phillips, a former member of Democratic Gov. Ned McWherter’s administration, then recalled McWherter’s advice that if you are going to get anything done in politics, you have to work together. McWherter was House speaker during Alexander’s first term in office.
“The state was as Democratic then as it is Republican now,” Alexander told club members. “McWherter was asked what he will do with this young Republican governor. He said ‘I’m going to help him. Because if he succeeds our state succeeds.’ ... We knew how to fight politically and we did. We also knew how to recruit the auto industry and build four-lane highways in Upper East Tennessee.”
Next month, Alexander said he will attempt to bring Tennessee’s pay-as-you-go story about highway financing to Washington.
“When I left the governor’s office, we had zero road debt, and now we collect about $900 million in gas tax revenues,” Alexander related. “Washington runs up the debt. I’d like to see Washington adopt the debt policies we have. ... I’d be embarrassed to ask the people of Tennessee to re-elect me if I didn’t have a plan to reduce the debt.”
Alexander, who has also served as president at the University of Tennessee and U.S. education secretary, will be running for a third term in next year’s GOP primary. State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, is running against him.
Alexander’s re-election campaign sent out an email Wednesday saying he has at least a three-to-one lead early in the competition.
When asked about that race, Alexander responded: “My spin on that is I’m going to do real well. ... I take nothing for granted in my own case.”
Alexander was also asked for his impressions of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the March on Washington.
“I was an intern in the Department of Justice, and I was a law student,” Alexander recalled. “I found a spot at the back of the crowd gathered on the Washington Mall. I can still hear King’s booming voice and the cadences of his speech. I especially remember the power of ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ ... How much has changed. We still have racism. ... Just then major universities were beginning to desegregate. Black people could only stay in certain hotels. ... Young people today have no idea how much has changed in the last 50 years.”