- Associated Press - Friday, January 9, 2015
Obama proposes free community college program

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Thursday announced a proposal that President Barack Obama said would make community college “free for everybody who is willing to work for it.” But administration officials provided no details about the program’s costs or where the money would come to pay for it.

Obama planned to formally announce the plan Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. He gave a preview in a videotaped message shot aboard Air Force One and posted on Facebook.

“It’s not just for kids,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

Obama provided few specifics, and White House and Education Department officials on a conference call with reporters Thursday evening said the funding details would come out later with the president’s budget.

The White House did say that if all states participated, that nine million students could benefit - saving on average $3,800 in tuition per year for a full-time student. That means the program could cost in the billions of dollars. In a Republican-led Congress, the proposal likely faces a tough legislative fight to be passed.

“With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan,” said Cory Fritz, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.


Tenn. governor navigates delicate politics of Obama visit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has made a habit of being elsewhere the last three times President Barack Obama has visited Tennessee. But on Friday, just as Haslam prepares to sell the GOP-controlled legislature on Medicaid expansion, the governor plans to be front and center with the Democratic president when he visits Knoxville.

Haslam insists he’s not worried about any political ramifications from appearing alongside Obama, noting that the president is coming to Tennessee to highlight the state’s free community college program.

State Republicans have spent years vilifying Obama and his health care policies, and legislators last year enacted a law requiring their approval for any Medicaid deal. It was dubbed the “Stop Obamacare Act.”

Haslam, about to embark on his second term, is safe politically - but the same cannot be said of his agenda.

In November, he won re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote, and a month later he was named chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Still, he faces what is likely to be his toughest legislative session yet, with outcome of several key initiatives likely to set the tone for the rest of his time in office.

The governor has called a special session next month in which he hopes to persuade skeptical members of his own party to approve a deal to cover 200,000 more low-income people using money available under Obama’s health care law. He stresses that his proposal is not straight Medicaid expansion because it includes what he calls a “market-based” approach of vouchers to buy private insurance, co-pays and incentives for healthy living.


Haslam calls Tenn. lawmakers into special session on Feb. 2

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday issued a call for a special legislative session to take up his proposal to offer medical coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans.

The governor’s proclamation calls for the special session to begin Feb. 2, and legislative leaders expect it to take about a week. The proposal dubbed “Insure Tennessee” is billed as a two-year pilot program using federal funds available under President Barack Obama’s health care law.

But Haslam stresses that his proposal is different than a straight expansion of Medicaid, as it would include what he calls a market-based approach that includes incentives for healthier living. According to the summary of his proposal released Thursday, the aim is “to shift health care spending toward paying for value rather than paying for volume.”

Still, the governor has acknowledged that the proposal will be a tough sell in the GOP-controlled Legislature, and that he will likely need the votes of all Democrats to give it a chance. Democrats hold 26 of 99 seats in the House and five of 33 seats in the Senate.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, told reporters Thursday morning that he was surprised the governor expected to rely on Democrats so heavily.

“I’m not depending on Democrats to pull the weight on this,” Ramsey said. “If we want to pass it or not pass it, it should be up to the 28 Republicans to decide that.”


Little Jimmy Dickens remembered for humor, warmth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Little Jimmy Dickens was remembered on Thursday for his humor and warmth at a funeral on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, where he performed regularly for decades until shortly before his death at age 94.

Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill and other stars sang songs and told stories about the 4-foot-11 showman with the amazing 76-year career who had a reputation for making nervous, young newcomers feel welcome.

“When you’re young and someone’s kind to you like that, you never forget it,” Gill said, recalling his own early experiences with Dickens. Then he asked the group of several hundred mourners, “Let me have a show of hands - who all thought that Little Jimmy Dickens was your best friend?”

One of Dickens’ friends included gold-medal Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton, who joked that he and Dickens hit it off because they were both short and “we both made a living performing in lots of beads and spangles.”

Underwood said her mother warned her to watch out for Dickens when she first performed on the Opry “‘because he likes the pretty girls.’” But she said Dickens always kissed her hand whenever he saw her and “had a little piece of my heart.”

Opry General Manager Pete Fisher spoke of how Dickens always was up for anything, whether it was dressing up like a Leprechaun on St. Patrick’s Day or climbing onto a step ladder to get eye level with 6-foot-6 country singer Trace Adkins.

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