Come and Take It, or Not

On Friday evening, Dan Patrick’s office sent an announcement: on March 2nd the lieutenant governor, along with Senator Charles Schwertner and “other senators”, would hold a press conference on the subject of Medicaid flexibility. The topic was an intriguing one. Texas, of course, is one of the states that has declined to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Efforts to consider the subject, in 2013, were unceremoniously squashed, and nothing has happened in the interim that would make Texas more receptive to the federal government’s preferences. Schwertner, who chairs the Senate Health and Human Services committee, dismissed the idea bluntly months ago: “expanding Medicaid in its current form is a nonstarter for Texas.” Plus the date, March 2nd, was a dead giveaway.

The press conference confirmed the Senate’s position: Texas will not expand Medicaid in its current form. The idea of doing so, Schwertner added, “is simply not worth discussing.” And if the president doesn’t like that, apparently, it’s incumbent on him to be flexible. Patrick and Schwertner produced a letter to Barack Obama, signed by all 20 Senate Republicans, laying out their list of demands. They want the federal government to give Texas the latitude to implement ten reforms (“at minimum”) in the current Medicaid program, then, and only then, Texas would come back to the table—maybe.

It was an aggressive approach, considering that the Texas Senate can’t force the federal government to accept its conditions; but a defensible one.

Asleep at the Switch

Wendy Davis is asleep at the switch again. The Obama administration has opened a new front on the battle over Medicaid expansion. By 2016, says the White House, states that have adopted expansion will have saved $4.3 billion. In addition, expansion states would have experienced 3.3 million annual physicians’ visits, 176,000 more cholesterol screenings, 44,000 more mammograms, and 97,000 fewer people experiencing depression. This ought to be a heaven-sent opportunity for Davis to distinguish herself from Abbott. Expansion would have saved Texas $3.1B in 2014, $10.4B by 2017. And yet, the state’s Republican leaders are willing to allow their hatred for Barack Obama to get in the way of improving Texans’ health, not to mention providing billions of dollars for doctors and hospitals.

The Tea Party Influence

On Friday, a joint conference committee from the House and Senate announced a budget deal for the 2014-2015 biennium. The result, assuming that it passes the full House and Senate next week, comes in at about $195.5 billion—more than last time around, and although it doesn’t break the spending cap, it does allow for about $2 billion dollars to be withdrawn from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for water. 

Health Scare

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.

Area 51

The first day of debate over the House Appropriations bill is typically one of the most consequential events of a legislative session. Last Thursday’s debate was no exception. The highlight was a school vouchers amendment by Democrat Abel Herrero, of Corpus Christi: The language of Herrero’s amendment read, “Use of Appropriated Funds for School Vouchers or to Support Tax-Credit Scholarships Prohibited. Money appropriated to the Texas Education Agency by the Act may not be used to pay for or support school vouchers or scholarships for private primary or secondary education using donations received from entities using donations received from entities that receive tax credits as a result of the donations.” This immediately led to a heated discussion between Herrero and Scott Turner, a freshman Republican whose district includes Rockwall County and parts of Collin County. Turner spoke with considerable emotion about the fate of children who grow up in gang-infested neighborhoods, including his own nephew.

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