Roundup provides a review of the week’s top government stories from Chattanooga, Nashville and Washington, D.C.
Senate Democrats invoke “nuclear option”
Senate Democrats approved a rules change Wednesday that will limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster presidential nominees from midlevel cabinet positions to the federal judiciary. Invoking the “nuclear option” will lower the threshold needed to confirm nominees from 60 votes to end a filibuster to a simple majority of 51 votes. The rules change does not apply to Supreme Court nominees or legislation.
It represented the culmination of years of frustration over what Democrats denounced as a Republican campaign to stall the machinery of Congress, stymie President Obama’s agenda and block his choices for cabinet posts and federal judgeships by insisting that virtually everything the Senate approves be done by a supermajority.
In the future, if the same party controlled the White House and the Senate, as Democrats do now, presidents would have greater latitude to pick more-ideological nominees because they will not have to build support among the minority party.
Some conservatives welcomed the prospect that the change could give Republicans similar maneuvering room in the future. Some doubted that Supreme Court nominations and legislation would remain exempted from the new rule, even though Mr. Reid said the 60-vote threshold would continue to apply.
Sen. Lamar Alexander blasted the rules change on Fox News soon after it occurred.
“It’s another raw exercise of political power to permit the majority to do anything it wants whenever it wants to do it,” he said.
PAC challenges domestic partnership benefits decision
The ink wasn’t even dry on a new Chattanooga law that extends health insurance to city employees’ domestic partners when a local political action committee began a petition drive to put the issue in front of voters next year.
Citizens for Government Accountability and Transparency cleared its first hurdle Wednesday morning when the Hamilton County Election Commission OK’d its petition language. For nearly two hours, commissioners debated the rules for a petition drive and weighed seemingly conflicting provisions under city and state law. Commissioners said they want to avoid the kind of legal challenges they faced during the 2010 recall of then-Mayor Ron Littlefield.
“It seems like we’ve been down this road before,” Commissioner Jerry Summers said.
Mark West heads the PAC and the Chattanooga Tea Party. His group will need to gather about 4,500 signatures to move a referendum forward. The group will be gathering signatures at churches, civic groups and businesses. And it is using an online system to reach its goal in a narrow two-week window around the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Chattanoogan.com.
Health care in Tennessee
Insurers in Tennessee can continue to offer health insurance plans that do not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. The extensions will last for another year, according to The Tennessean. The state’s largest insurer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, announced last Friday it plans to continue coverage under those plans.
Gov. Bill Haslam is one of a few Republican governors trying to “thread a needle” on Medicaid expansion. He is trying to negotiate an alternative plan with federal officials that would allow more enrollees in TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. However, the state Legislature is dead set against the expansion. Darin Gordon, TennCare director, told the governor this week that approximately 52,000 Tennessee residents are now eligible for TennCare as a result of Obamacare.