The prolonged debate in Congress over health care is having a ripple effect on Tennessee's race for governor, and it may be a few more weeks before the field for 2018 is set.
A key figure is Diane Black. The Congressional representative from Sumner County is a frontrunner for the Republican nomination for governor. But Black has work in Washington she wants to wrap up first, including a job that stems from a major position she holds — chair of the House Budget Committee.
"And I'm going to finish my budget and do the work that I promised I'd do," Black said at a GOP fundraiser back in May. "And then I'll make that decision" about running for governor.
Writing the federal budget has been slowed, however, by the debate over health care. Republicans in Congress are trying to push their health care measure through as a budget bill. This approach has the advantage of needing only a simple majority to pass the Senate, rather than the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.
The down side is reconciliation can only happen before the budget is finalized. So Black's committee cannot take that measure up before the health care measure is finished.
Another rule says Black is supposed to give up the Budget Committee chair once she declares. Speaker Paul Ryan has the discretion to waive that rule temporarily, but it would be difficult for Black to campaign while simultaneously finishing a federal budget.
A spokesman for the Budget Committee says there's no timeline for taking up the budget, but Black hopes to get it done as quickly as possible.
Black isn't the only probable candidate still deciding. Craig Fitzhugh, a prominent Democratic state lawmaker from West Tennessee, hasn't said for sure. Nor has House Speaker Beth Harwell, though the Nashville Republican says she's leaning toward running. She and Black might wind up competing for some of the same supporters in their bids to become Tennessee's next governor.
Black's decision could also have an effect on Congress. If she leaves, it raises the likelihood that state Senator Mark Green could seek her seat. So could Scottie Nell Hughes, a TV commentator who lives in Hendersonville. State Rep. Judd Matheny, a Republican who lives in Tullahoma, says he's certain to run for Black's seat, regardless of her decision.