Bredesen Does It Again

The trend of recent Tennessee government is curious -- and in its own way encouraging. Consider the political courses taken by the last two Tennessee chief executives -- former governor Don Sundquist and current governor Phil Bredesen.

In his efforts (ultimately abortive) to alter the state's reliance on consumption taxes and to shore up and even expand state-run programs like TennCare, Republican Sundquist behaved like a stereotypical Democrat. In his enforcement of strict across-the-board spending cuts and his disinclination to consider new taxation, Democrat Bredesen has been functioning like a card-carrying Republican.

Without attempting to judge the rights and wrongs of either man's conduct, we are bemused and -- again -- encouraged by the fact that both proved able to think outside the box of their party's official doctrinaire positions.

Bredesen is at it again. Having commissioned an independent study of the feasibility of TennCare -- one which found the state's health-care program for the uninsured and uninsurable to be a drain on the budget as currently constituted -- the governor got out his swift sword and cut the knot connecting state policy to the unproductive past. In a nutshell, he proposed stiffening penalties for fraud and abuse, limiting and means-testing certain essential benefits, and giving priority to children, pregnant women, and the disabled.

One thing Bredesen did not do is suggest paring the rolls -- except for reasons of patient ineligibility. That is good news, especially for the families of uninsurables, who often turn up on various hit lists prepared by those who have more Draconian cuts in mind.

The governor resolves to cut program costs by as much as $1 billion a year at the end of a five-year period. If he can do that, and thereby salvage what could still be a model health-care program for other states to follow, Bredesen will have fully justified praise bestowed on him by former governor Ned Ray McWherter, who originated TennCare a decade ago and who predicted two weeks ago that Bredesen will go down as "the greatest governor in Tennessee history."

The Marriage Quagmire

In his speech this week proposing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, President Bush may have caused more problems than his action will resolve.

Though we understand the benefits that raising the issue might provide for the incumbent president in this election year (especially since he'll probably be opposed by a Democrat from the gay-marriage-friendly state of Massachusetts), we'll give Mr. Bush the benefit of the doubt for sincerity.

Unquestionably, the plethora of marriage licenses issued to gay couples of late in California creates a precedent that needs -- and will shortly receive -- legal adjudication. It may turn out that the Constitution's silence on the particulars of the case is an impediment to resolving the issue state by state. At stake are such conundra as whether, say, a marriage recognized as legal in California must be so regarded in Tennessee as well. Another problem: Are civil-union statutes sufficient to provide equal protection for gay and lesbian couples, or must these rights be further buttressed constitutionally?

As those two instances suggest, we are likely to see not one but many constitutional amendments proposed, once we get started along that path.

Far better that the issue be subjected to scrutiny, however extended, by the courts. President Bush should certainly be willing. The man elevated to his high office by an action of the U.S. Supreme Court is certainly aware that the nation's ruling tribunal is by no means a haven these days for liberal activists.

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