A bumpy ride for Senator Jane Nelson’s subcommittee on Medicaid came to an end this morning when senators voted 5-2 to move her recommendations on to the full Finance committee. The two “no” votes were Democratic senators Zaffirini and Whitmire, both of whom were spotted huddling with Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst and Finance chair Ogden in the rear of the Senate chamber after this morning’s meeting of the full Senate. Among other things, Zaffirini told Dewhurst she could not live with the cuts to a program that funds HIV medication for indigent Texans. The program did not make Nelson’s list of top funding priorities, even though state health officials told the subcommittee that patients would die without access to the drugs.
Zaffirini apparently made an impression on the lieutenant governor. Asked about the exchange, Dewhurst said we have not heard the final word on the issue. “I would imagine that when it’s all said and done and we get to our final budget, that life-saving drugs would be included,” he said. “I’ve made sure they have before.”
That last point was a reference to 2005, when Zaffirini once again found herself on the losing side of a debate over funding the same program. She prevailed on Dewhurst then, too, and managed to persuade him to get behind the funding.
Getting funded in the Senate budget is only half the battle, of course. The House’s proposed budget allots billions less for health and human services than the Senate’s. This program, like dozens of others, will need a champion in the conference committee if it’s going to survive. Zaffirini’s refusal to go along to get along may have cost her a spot on that committee. “I considered voting ‘yes’ to move the process along, but I couldn’t do it. I feel too passionately about these issues. And there were people who told me if you vote “no” you can’t get on the conference committee. That’s not a factor. I have to do my best work,” she said. “But this is just a step in the process, and it will continue.”
BY NATE BLAKESLEE