Health Scare

What the politics of Medicaid expansion says about the future of Texas.
Illustration by Thomas Fuchs

On the first morning after the long Easter weekend, state troopers and men wearing dark suits and scowls occupied the area outside the Governor’s Public Reception Room on the second floor of the Capitol. They would soon have company. I stood with a group of reporters, and we could hear the protesters heading our way, their chants growing louder as they closed in. The ennui of the morning was broken as TV cameramen raced to the stairs to film the scene. The cacophony filled the rotunda and floated upward into the dome. “What do we want?” the demonstrators shouted. “Health care!” was the response. “When do we want it?” they called out. “Now!” came the familiar reply. Sometimes they varied the message to say, “Rick, take the money,” and a few protesters carried signs that portrayed Governor Rick Perry and U.S. senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz as the Three Stooges and read, “Only a knucklehead would reject $78 billion for their state.” And that pretty much summed up what the controversy was all about: Will Texas participate in an expansion of Medicaid offered by the Obama administration under the Affordable Care Act?

While the protests continued outside the reception room, a press conference was taking place inside featuring Perry, Cornyn, Cruz, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, and other Republican leaders, all of whom had come to the Capitol to engage in two of their favorite pastimes: bashing the federal government and criticizing Medicaid, which currently provides health care to more than 3.3 million children and poor or disabled adults in Texas. The pols were here to insist upon their refusal to accept an expansion of Medicaid that could bring billions of dollars to the state and reduce the number of Texans without health insurance, currently 24 percent of the population, or about 6 million people.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats had scheduled their own press conference in the

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