In response to critics of his position on President Obama's stimulus program, enacted last week by Congress, Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen issued this clarifying statement: "I fully support the President's economic recovery package. It will provide much needed jobs for Tennesseans, and will help build a sound foundation for our economic future. The unemployment provisions are very important, and we will be looking at how to best use those to meet our needs in Tennessee. Tennessee is very grateful to President Obama for his vision on this issue."
Ever since Bredesen had expressed reservations about accepting additional unemployment funds provided for in the stimulus package, he has had to deal with mounting criticism from fellow Democrats -- mostly recently expressed on Friday by 9th District congressman Steve Cohen and several other public officials from the Memphis area.
Noting that the only governors to opt out of accepting additional funds for unemployment insurance had so far been Republican governors from the South, Cohen had challenged Bredesen to "listen to his heart" and accept the funds on behalf of "the purple hearts of this recession." Not to do so, said Cohen, would be "wrongsocially, morally, and economically.
Elaborating on Bredesen's response to the criticism, his spokesperson Lydia Lenker said, "The Governor strongly supports the concept of getting more assistance into the hands of more unemployed workers in the tough economy. He's simply taking some time to look at the best way to do that without creating a situation where Tennessee's unemployment trust fund inadvertently runs into solvency issues three years down the road."
Like Governors Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Haley Barbour of Mississippi, all of whom are rejecting the unemployment-insurance funds, Bredesen has expressed concern that his state would be obligated to continue paying out extended benefits from its own resources after the federal money plays out.
Cohen and the other officials who implored Bredesen to accept the funds at Friday's press conference in Memphis disagree. The money would be "targeted, temporary, and timely," Cohen said.
Bredesen has yet to make a final decision on the issue.
An irony of the current situation, which has Bredesen and the president at potential loggerheads, is that, for the last several weeks, the governor had been widely touted as a possible Obama appointee as Secretary of Health and Human Services.