By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — 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.”
Note: The text of the letter is below. A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says 24 of the state’s 26 Republican state senators signed the letter, the exceptions being Sens. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville and Brian Kelsey of Germantown.
October 8, 2013
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
We write to you to express extreme displeasure in how you are
overseeing the budget impasse in Congress known as the “government
Ostensibly, a government shutdown would revolve around saving taxpayer
funds. That is not the case in this instance. In fact, your
administration seems to be going to great lengths and sparing no
expense to sell your particular shutdown narrative.
While the media eagerly accepts this narrative, we in public service
know the truth. The IRS is still collecting taxes and the NSA is still
compiling metadata. Vital services are still available and essential
employees are still getting paid.
There is no government shutdown, merely a slowdown. What’s worse is
that public displays of this so-called shutdown appear to be packaged
for mass media consumption. 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.
Witness the barricading of the World War II Memorial in Washington.
This is a memorial that, while usually staffed during business hours,
is open to the public 24 hours a day. The public “closing” of this
memorial and keeping veterans off the grounds by threat of force was a
farce. The closing of the D-Day Memorial and 24 other memorials
overseas just adds insult to injury.
Tennesseans are well aware of this tactic. Over ten years ago when our
state faced a budget crisis, state parks in key legislative districts
were closed. This was a last ditch effort by liberals to scare
Tennesseans into supporting higher taxes. The Obama administration
has similarly shut down federal parks in Tennessee, in some cases
blocking roads children need to take to school. This tactic was
transparent then and it is transparent now.
Just like the old tax and spenders in Tennessee, the Obama
administration hopes to intimidate opponents of Obamacare into
capitulating and selling out their constituents – constituents who
want the Affordable Care Act repealed and replaced.
Your administration wants us to believe we cannot reduce the budget
and we must continue down the path of increasing our debt. Yet the
Senate has not passed a budget in over four years and our debt as a
percentage of GDP sits at nearly 73%.
We know that the people of Tennessee see through this blatant attempt
to manipulate public perception. We hope the rest of the nation sees
this “shutdown” not as the folly of Republican intransigence but for
what it truly is: a face-saving measure by a President to ram through
the implementation of unworkable legislation.