JACKSON -- Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, is flexing his muscle in his second year as chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
In conference committee meetings where House and Senate leaders are trying to reach a budget agreement, Nunnelee has felt secure enough to take positions not adopted by the full Senate.
For instance, the full Senate approved language to prevent the Division of Medicaid from enacting through a private contractor a type of managed care system. Nunnelee has supported the managed care system in negotiations with his House counterparts even though the full Senate voted to prevent it.
Nunnelee also has said he supports a hospital tax increase as close to the $90-million hike proposed by him and Gov. Haley Barbour as he can get. The full Senate essentially voted for no tax increase on hospitals.
And Nunnelee, using his power as Appropriations Committee chair, killed a bill that would have re-authorized the Division of Medicaid. Some contend, and it is questionable what other reason there could be, that Nunnelee wanted to block the re-authorization of the health care agency for the purpose of using it as a bargaining chip.
Normally, when committee chairs go to conference they say they will represent the will of their chamber. That is not always how it works, but generally is how it works. Now there is nothing illegal or unethical about what Nunnelee is doing.
He is playing within the rules. And he is using those often complex legislative rules in areas dealing with Medicaid to represent the positions supported by him and the governor -- not those supported by a majority of his Senate colleagues.
The question is what is the position of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate and who appointed Nunnelee to his current position?