Can the D's block the appropriations bill? Should they?
Fri March 18, 2011 5:27 pm

Until quite recently, Senate tradition held that no senator should cast a vote against the appropriations bill. The wisdom of the members of the Finance Committee was sufficient unto itself to earn the respect of the body. In the last two sessions, however, both D’s and R’s have bucked tradition and voted against the bill: Last session it was all D’s (Davis, Ellis, Gallegos, Shapleigh, Watson). In the previous session, the dissenters split, 2 D’s (Ellis, Shapleigh) and 3 R’s (Harris, Jackson, Patrick).

So the obvious question is whether Chairman Ogden has the votes to get the bill (a) out of committee and (b) to conference committee. Many readers have no doubt heard the speculation that Ogden doesn’t have the votes, that a coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans have enough votes to kill the bill.

The two questions I asked in the headline is whether Democrats could–or should–form a solid opposition to the appropriations bill. If ever that opposition could be justified, it’s this session, when the leanest budget in the history of modern Texas is likely to result.

The problem for the Democrats is that if they invoke the two-thirds rule to block the bill, they are playing with fire. Every session, Dan Patrick plots to kill the two-thirds rule. Make no mistake, he’ll be back next session to try again. A party-line Democratic vote against the two-thirds rule could be the very thing he needs to persuade his colleagues that it is time to change the rule. There are a lot of bills that Democrats could chose to block with their slender minority that wouldn’t infuriate Republicans, but the appropriations bill isn’t one of them. That’s the dilemma for Democrats: If they kill the budget, will Republicans retaliate next session by jiggering the rules to disallow the two-thirds rule for voting on the budget?

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