[Excerpt] In January 2015, Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, unveiled a proposal to expand his state’s Medicaid program to provide health insurance to two hundred thousand low-income residents. At the time, Haslam was at the peak of his power: he had just won reelection with 70 percent of the vote and had been named to head the Republican Governors Association. Haslam insisted that his plan was “not Obamacare”; indeed, he had gained concessions from the Obama administration allowing him to write conservative requirements into the program. His Republican colleagues—who controlled both houses of the legislature—supported his proposal, based partly on polling showing widespread voter approval. And yet none of this was enough.
An advocacy group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), sent field organizers into the state, ran weeks of advertising, and staged demonstrations insisting that any Medicaid expansion whatsoever amounted to “a vote for Obamacare.” Republican caucus chair Glen Casada termed AFP’s campaign “politics of intimidation.” But it worked; the governor’s bill was defeated. Declaring victory, an AFP spokesman warned that “other governors [should] look at Tennessee as an example.”
The Tennessee experience raises important questions about American politics and the forces that shape Americans’ economic lives. How could an outside advocacy group overturn the will of elected officials and their constituents? What led a corporate-backed group to undermine its Republican allies? Why would the Koch brothers, whose primary interests are in the oil industry, care enough about Medicaid to bankroll this type of campaign? And finally, if corporate lobbies have the power to do what they did in Tennessee, what else could they do? In what other ways might they be trying to rewrite the rules that govern our economy?
In answering these questions, this book aims to show how America’s most powerful corporate lobbies are working to remake the country’s economy in ways that will affect all Americans profoundly—and yet are largely invisible to most of us. Understanding these forces’ legislative agenda is essential to comprehending America’s current political and economic trajectory. Because this agenda has been enacted in state legislatures rather 4han the U.S. Congress, it is state-level initiatives that form the subject of this book.