Tennessee Republicans at odds over shutdown blame

Friday, October 4, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 40

NASHVILLE (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly appear to be at odds about who will be blamed for the shutdown of the federal government.

The Republican caucus in the state Senate on Tuesday sent a letter to President Barack Obama, claiming that the president and his Democratic allies in the U.S. Senate are behind the move to close down parts of the federal government to protect the new health care law.

"Your administration seems to be in the business of selling this 'shutdown' as a creation of House Republicans when it is in truth a maneuver by Senate Democrats to save the implementation of your administration's legislative showpiece," according to the letter signed by all but two of the chamber's 26 Republicans.

Meanwhile, the governor has said the GOP is not immune from criticism on the issue.

"If there's a total breakdown on something, there's usually blame on both sides," Haslam told The Associated Press last week. "And in this case that's what you have."

Haslam said the furor over the shutdown has hurt the GOP's chance to capitalize on the early problems of the online health insurance marketplaces.

"This should be a good time for us, and instead all the conversation is about the government shutdown," Haslam told reporters on Friday. "And people are going to, I think, lay a portion of that blame on Republicans."

Haslam spokesman David Smith in an email said the Senate letter reflects a shared exasperation.

"It sounds like people are frustrated with Washington, and rightfully so," Smith said in an email. He did not respond to questions about the differing approaches between the governor and the Senate Republicans.

The GOP letter to the president likened the federal government shutdown to the failure of the state Legislature to pass a spending plan during the failed efforts to enact a state income tax more than a decade ago.

When state lawmakers failed to meet their constitutional deadline to pass a balanced budget by July 1, 2002, then-Gov. Don Sundquist, a Republican, furloughed half of the state's 42,000 workers and keep only essential services, such as prisons, public safety and mental health hospitals operating.

Many Tennesseans were annoyed at the time to find popular state-run operations like parks and highway welcome centers shuttered.

"This was a last ditch effort by liberals to scare Tennesseans into supporting higher taxes," according to the Senate GOP letter. "The Obama administration has similarly shut down federal parks in Tennessee ... This tactic was transparent then and it is transparent now."

Sens. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Brian Kelsey of Germantown were the only Senate Republicans not to sign on to the letter.

"We've got troubles of our own here in Tennessee, we've done all we can to say no to Obamacare," Campfield said in a phone interview. "I'm not real big on that kind of stuff - a letter to them isn't going to do anything."