As of this writing, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen seems to have won the war of nerves over TennCare. Having last week stated boldly (we almost wrote "baldly"; it amounts to the same in this case) that he would end the decade-old state-insurance system unless litigants desisted in their efforts to limit the cuts imposed by his proposed reforms, Bredesen has forced his main antagonist, Gordon Bonnyman of the Tennessee Justice Center, to say "Uncle."
In a statement released Monday, on the seventh day of the week-long grace period the governor had extended before dropping the ax, Bonnyman announced that the TJC would suspend its litigation for two years, allowing the federal government to grant a waiver, if it chooses, allowing Bredesen's revised TennCare to substitute for federally mandated Medicaid, as other versions of the program have since the program's inception under former Governor Ned McWherter.
Bredesen's formula would limit benefits somewhat, while leaving the number of uninsured and uninsurable Tennesseans covered virtually unchanged. Bonnyman and the TJC had succeeded in getting courts to consider staying the benefit cuts -- a fact which finally provoked the governor into issuing his ultimatum. As Bredesen sees it, the continuation of TennCare in its present form would suck up virtually all the funding needed to provide Tennessee's other basic needs -- education, conservation, law enforcement, etc. -- if it did not indeed force the state to the edge of bankruptcy.
What both sides agreed on was that a reversion to Medicaid would mean the purging of some 430,000 of those currently insured under TennCare.
Bonnyman's apparent 11th-hour surrender was not the end of the story. While Bredesen welcomed the concession, he warned against further "guerrilla warfare" and observed warily that Bonnyman's language might "at a minimum need clarification and at worst undermine what we need to have a chance to succeed."
What the governor referred to were references in Bonnyman's statement to a need "of course" to observe "the Constitution" and to heed the ramifications of existing Medicaid statutes. Since such concerns were the legal basis of the TJC litigation, Bredesen was perhaps wise to practice caution.
In this instance, as in others (notably in confrontations with legislators over the shape of lottery legislation and workers' compensation reforms), Bredesen has indicated that he is no one to be fooled with, that he is willing to practice brinkmanship to achieve his ends. It is still too early to make a complete judgment on the pros and cons of the governor's position. But that he is prepared to govern, and govern resolutely, is an observable -- and not unwelcome -- fact.
Changing the Guard
As columnist Richard Cohen notes on page 11 of this issue, Colin Powell was less effective than he might have been in his more or less honorable conduct of the office of secretary of state. Still, he was known to have provided at least a temporary brake on the administration's reckless and willful plunge to war in Iraq -- which continues to rob our nation of its blood and treasure and good name in the world.
And that is more than can be said for Condoleezza Rice, whose performance as national security adviser during the last four years has been seriously negligent, a case of unremitting and uncritical compliance in all the administration's misadventures. We hope for the best but fear the worst. At least we won't have Attorney General John Ashcroft to kick around anymore.