With Health Reform Constitutional, What Happens in TX?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature health care legislation, is constitutional — including the individual mandate that forces Americans to carry health insurance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

What that decision means for Texas, where leaders have ardently opposed “Obamacare” despite the state's sky-high rate of uninsured residents, is complicated, both by politics and by the state's history of rejecting federal dollars. 

In a 5-4 decision, the high court upheld the health reform provision that requires all citizens to carry insurance coverage — a major win for Democrats, and a serious blow to Republican opponents, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who sued the federal government on Texas' behalf along with 25 other states. (Read the ruling here.)

The health reform law also dramatically expands Medicaid, which already makes up close to a quarter of Texas’ state budget, although the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may not withhold Medicaid funds from states that reject the expansion — and the money that comes with it.

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, Texas' Republican leaders haven't yet said what approach they'll take.

They'll likely rush to implement a health insurance exchange — a state marketplace for the public to shop for deals on health insurance that the federal government will instate if Texas doesn't do it.

But Texas officials have a history of rejecting federal dollars for programs they disagree with, and the Medicaid expansion will likely be no exception. Republican consultants say they think it's likely that Texas will reject the Medicaid expansion — and the billions of federal dollars that come along with it — at least at first. They say it's the principle (it's hard to accept money for something you've railed against in this political environment) and also the reality: The state's Medicaid program is already running billions of dollars short, and they argue that enrolling even more poor adults isn't possible until Texas rights its own ship. 

"We’ll work closely with Gov. Perry, state leaders and the attorney [general] to fully analyze the ruling, but I’m pleased that it gives states more ability to push back against a forced expansion of Medicaid," Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs said in a statement. "I remain concerned that expanding Medicaid without reforming it only multiplies the tremendous budget pressure the program puts on states. Medicaid already consumes a quarter of the state budget in Texas, and enrollment and costs would mushroom under the Affordable Care Act." 

Republican consultants also believe that the Supreme Court ruling that the federal government can't withhold Medicaid funds puts Texas on slightly better footing to negotiate with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid for possible waivers to help with an expansion down the road. In the last legislative session, Texas received one federal waiver; the feds rejected a second.  

Abbott said after Thursday's ruling that the justices' decision that "Congress does not have the authority to force states into the Medicaid expansions" is a win for states' rights, and for Texas. 

"In the end, it was a victory, even though it was not the outcome we wanted," he said. 

If Texas does accept federal funding to expand Medicaid, the costs to the state will be minimal for the first few years — and ramp up slightly in subsequent years. Though they're not minimal, especially in a state already struggling to fund existing Medicaid enrollees, the match provides a deal that health reform supporters say is far too good for Texas to pass up.

The flow of federal funding to Texas under health reform has already begun, albeit not through a Medicaid expansion. The Health Care Innovation Awards, which have granted more than $40 million to Texas-based health care projects, were funded under the law. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department Health and Human Services awarded about $5.3 million to health centers in Texas under the act.

Risks For Perry In Senate Race

Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Jan. 27, 2009, before Perry's State of the State address.
Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Jan. 27, 2009, before Perry's State of the State address.

Rick Perry is slowly re-building his political brand in Texas after his dramatic flameout in the 2012 presidential race.

Pollsters privately say his popularity ratings are inching back up, and friends believe he is likely to run for re-election in 2014 — and possibly mount another presidential race four years from now.

But Perry is incurring some political risk in the U.S. Senate race. The governor is enthusiastically backing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and he hasn’t shied away from attacking Dewhurst's Tea Party-backed opponent, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz.

When Cruz suggested last week that Perry was backing Dewhurst to “get him out of Austin,” the governor didn’t hesitate to fire back with a sharply worded attack.

"Earlier this evening Ted Cruz falsely characterized my rationale for endorsing my friend and conservative colleague David Dewhurst for the US Senate,” Perry said, going on to extol the lieutenant governor’s legislative accomplishments. “Making false statements about my motives or David Dewhurst's conservative record is a disservice to Texas voters."

The problem with attacking Cruz is that the Harvard-trained lawyer has about as much Tea Party credibility and backing as a Texas Republican could want, from local leaders like JoAnn Fleming, chair of the Texas Legislature’s Tea Party Caucus Advisory Committee, to national stars like U.S. Sens. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky.

Perry adroitly courted Tea Party groups in 2009, long before most other top Republican leaders had grasped the importance and staying power of the movement. But the more he is seen by them as the leader of the establishment — and backing a candidate that they think is too moderate — the more he risks alienating a key GOP constituency.

This is not some idle endorsement, where one politician wishes another one success and then walks off the stage. Perry is actively promoting Dewhurst, and so are a lot of people within the governor’s extended network of allies. Dewhurst recently picked up another operative from Perry World — his state campaign political director, Kevin Lindley.

Lindley, known as a ground game expert, is working for Dewhurst in the runoff, which falls on July 31. Perry Special Adviser Clint Harp is filling in for Lindley while he works on The Dew’s Senate campaign.

Because Perry is so fully invested, there inevitably would be some blowback on him if Dewhurst fails. Pundits would question why all the king’s men couldn’t get his hand-picked candidate elected, and other insurgent Tea Party candidates like Cruz might be emboldened to try to replicate his success in 2014 and beyond.

Perry could also find himself competing for the state and national spotlight if Cruz is elected. Pundits would inevitably compare Cruz to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also of Cuban heritage. A new star would be born.

Of course, Cruz could fail to live up to the hype even if he is elected. And his Canadian birth appears to rule out a future run for the White House.  So, unlike Rubio, he wouldn’t be talked about as vice-presidential timber — or potentially as a future candidate for president.

If Cruz doesn’t win, chances are good he’ll run for statewide office in two years, probably for attorney general. That would give the Republican establishment a chance to collectively make up, put on a united front in the media, and nip this whole insurgent candidacy nonsense in the bud.

Texas Conference Draws Transportation Heavy-Hitters

Wokers along stretch of highway at US290/US 183 April 2011
Wokers along stretch of highway at US290/US 183 April 2011

A who’s who of transportation policy wonks, lawmakers and engineers will descend on Irving in August for the 15th Annual Transportation & Infrastructure Summit.

The event, which is always held in Irving, has evolved from humble origins into one of the most respected gatherings in the country focused on transportation policy. Keynote guests this year include former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez.

Plenty of Texas officials will also attend including Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Phil Wilson and U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

State Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, chair of the House Transportation Committee, plans to convene a meeting of a recently created subcommittee on transit to take place at the Summit, his office confirmed.

David Dean, a Summit organizer and former Texas Secretary of State, said the first conference in 1997 was originally called the Texas Transportation Summit and lasted only four hours. It was put together at the request of U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, the highest-ranking Texan on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, as a way to bring together federal and local officials to talk transportation policy.

“It wasn’t designed to be an annual anything,” Dean said. “We focused on policy as opposed to engineering and technical. The primary focus was highways.”

The feedback to that first meeting was so positive that organizers planned another get-together the next year. It soon expanded from four hours to a full day, then to a day and a half. The event is now a tightly-packed four-day conference. It regularly draws more than 1,000 attendees.

Dean said organizers eventually dropped the word "Texas" from the name because attendees from other states told them it would be easier to expense the trip to employers if it sounded like a wide-reaching event tackling national transportation issues, which is what it what it has become.

“It’s become perhaps the most robust and most broad-covered policy summit in the country,” Dean said. “We’re lucky it’s in Texas and Irving has been a very faithful and committed primary host to it.”

Given the recent drama in Congress over passing a long-term transportation funding bill, the future of paying for new roads and transit systems will be a major focus of the event.

The change in the mentality of attendees regarding transportation funding since that first summit has been striking, Dean said.

“Back in the salad days, when money was flowing, you’d kind of take a number and get in line and you’d assume at some point your project would be funded,” Dean said. “Fifteen years ago, people were still thinking you could raise gas taxes.”

Now public-private partnerships and toll roads draw more serious interest and few see a gas tax increase as politically possible, he said.

Other hot issues this year are likely to include the impact of the upcoming Panama Canal expansion on the country’s ports and the future of high-speed rail.

Interactive Map: Texas House Committees in 82nd Session

Texas Weekly Newsreel: Senate Debate Recap

Takeaways from the Republican and Democratic Senate debates between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst on the one hand, and Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough on the other.

Inside Intelligence: About Those House Incumbents...

The insiders continued their forecasts on runoffs again this week, looking at incumbent House members who find themselves in reelection runoffs. Overall, the insiders are sticking with the incumbents, but they're closely divided in a couple of races.

Most, 74 percent, think Chuck Hopson will win his runoff, and 57 percent think Jim Landtroop will win his. Sid Miller got a confidence vote from 54 percent, and J.M. Lozano is favored in his race by 52 percent of the insiders.

We've included their verbatim comments on the races below:

Who do you think would win an HD-11 runoff held today?

• "Certainly hope Chuck pulls through--thoughtful guy who sincerely tries his best for his district."

• "Clardy represents the heavy population side of the reconfigured district.   Longtime Nac R's don't like Hopson party switcher."

• "One thing I know for sure:  you should never count Chuck Hopson out."

• "Landslide Hopson has endured nothing but close races!"

• "The grassroots are unhappy with Hopson's LIBERAL votes and don't trust his party change."

• "Hopson's base is solid."

• "Hopson is at his best as a politician when his back is against the wall."

• "The sheriff's race in Nacogdoches is over and will not bring out the same turnout for Travis; therefore, Chuck wins."

• "Republicans won't turn out in a runoff to vote for a Democrat over Clardy.  They remember."


Who do you think would win an HD-43 runoff held today?

• "Will the curse of the Spanish surname rise again in a Republican race?"

• "Does JM have enough consultants?"

• "This one is a tough race to call. We just don't know how the Lozano name will affect the outcome. It's tough to be an Hispanic candidate in GOP primaries."

• "Lozano will soon have more time to rock his son to sleep."

• "No idea"

• "J.M. ran a crappy campaign.... fired his campaign consultant (Murphy/Turner should have been fired months ago!) And J.M. is now trying to find his message. Too little too late. Bill wins."

• "Wilson wins is the is the opinion of smart S. Texas politicos"

Who do you think would win an HD-67 runoff held today?

• "What world do we live in when Sid Miller is no longer seen as conservative enough?"

• "HD-59?"

• "If Republicans don't stand for cutting education while forcing paternalistic laws upon sexually active women, then the world has no meaning anymore."

• "Sheffield wins as part of the new district was held by Ralph Sheffield...people don't know this other new name (miller) and will vote again for the same person they have been voting for (Sheffield; although the wrong person). Sheffield wins."


Who do you think would win an HD-88 runoff held today?

• "The population center-if you can call it that-in this remote W. Texas district favors King."

• "Landtroop is a nobody...Ken has the money. Ken wins."

• "I think Landtroop's lack of true South Plains connection plays against him, finally."

Our thanks to this week's participants: Lisa Kaufman, Russ Keane, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Ramey Ko, James LeBas, Luke Legate, Ruben Longoria, Homero Lucero, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Luke Marchant, Bryan Mayes, Dan McClung, Parker McCollough, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Craig Murphy, Pat Nugent, Sylvia Nugent, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Bill Pewitt, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Jay Propes, Karen Reagan, Jeff Rotkoff, Mark Sanders, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Bradford Shields, Christopher Shields, Dee Simpson, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Larry Soward, Dennis Speight, Tom Spilman, Jason Stanford, Bill Stevens, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Charles Stuart, Michael Quinn Sullivan, sherry sylvester, Jay Thompson, Russ Tidwell, Trey Trainor, Ware Wendell, Darren Whitehurst, Michael Wilt, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli, Cathie Adams, Jenny Aghamalian, Doc Arnold, Jay Arnold, Charles Bailey, Tom Banning, Mike Barnett, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Chris Britton, Andy Brown, Blaine Bull, Kerry Cammack, Thure Cannon, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, Rick Cofer, John Colyandro, Harold Cook, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, June Deadrick, Scott Dunaway, David Dunn, Jeff Eller, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Norman Garza, Bruce Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, Alan Gray, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Adam Haynes, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Mark Jones.

The Calendar

Saturday, June 30:

  • Fundraiser for Rep. Jason Isaac; Driftwood (11 a.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

With record heat taking hold, the state of Texas has to balance encouraging conservation to avoid rolling blackouts this summer and assuring residents and businesses that all is well. The Public Utility Commission is also debating how much reserve power the state should keep: the higher the reserve, the lower the chance of rolling blackouts — but the cost to consumers could amount to hundreds of dollars per year.

The Supreme Court's ruling against most of Arizona’s controversial immigration law created some openings for conservatives otherwise disappointed with the outcome. Gov. Perry’s official statement decried the federal government for depriving the states of their sovereign power. But he said later that the ruling bolsters his resolve to pass legislation banning sanctuary cities, something he was unable to accomplish in the last legislative session.

Texas officials who hoped to circumvent Environmental Protection Agency rules on greenhouse gases were handed a defeat this week by an appeals court in Washington. The three-judge panel validated the agency’s authority to use existing federal law to regulate the gases blamed for global warming. Industry groups and several states challenged the regulations in court, protesting that the rules would hurt businesses and ultimately consumers. But their arguments about the science of the rules got no traction with the court. Environmental groups hailed the ruling.

A Supreme Court ruling on mandatory sentences could impact some Texas prisoners. The high court ruled against mandatory life sentences for juveniles under the age of 18 as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Texas changed its law in 2009 to prohibit mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for anyone under 17. The one-year age gap allowed 27 people to receive a life without parole sentence. But it’s unclear what the state will do to address the provisions of the ruling. Gov. Rick Perry’s office is working with state legal and justice officials to determine what the state will do with the affected individuals.

Law enforcement officials in the coastal town of Portland are trying to determine whether the shooting of a lesbian couple in a public park was motivated by their relationship. One of the girls was pronounced dead at the scene, and the other was hospitalized for her injuries. Investigators hope she will be able to provide information about the attacker.

Texas A&M announced plans to expand its footprint with the addition of a law school in downtown Fort Worth. The system will pay Texas Wesleyan about $25 million for its law school, which will be renamed the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University. The proposal still needs to be finalized, but if it is approved in its current form, the handover would happen in June 2013.

A proposed rule requiring more extensive questioning of women seeking abortions has drawn the attention of some Democratic senators. In its original form, the rule was House Bill 1602, which failed to even get out of committee during the 2011 legislative session. Its author, Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, then tried to tack it on to Senate Bill 7 as an amendment on the health reform bill, which did not pass in the session. It’s now being floated as a rule that requires clinics to collect more detailed information about the women it’s serving, including their birth year, race, marital status and level of education. Ten Democratic senators banded together to send a letter of protest to Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs asking him to kill the rule.

Following a call for the El Paso Independent School District to institute stronger internal controls, district trustees are calling for lawmakers to grant stronger investigative powers to the Texas Education Agency. The district has been grappling with former Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia’s admission of fraud on state and federal testing, and has been criticized for not having stronger oversight in place. Garcia was investigated by both the internal auditor of the district and the TEA, but the board never saw the auditor’s report — Garcia kept it from them. And the TEA cleared the district in 2010 when it was accused of cheating. Charges against the former superintendent were detailed in the suppressed report.

Councilman Robert Rivera of Arlington has disclosed that he’s been helping the FBI gather evidence against a Grand Prairie man convicted of wire fraud. Halid Amer pleaded guilty for his role in a scheme to defraud banks and was due to be sentenced by a Dallas federal judge. Amer approached Rivera and asked for his help in bribing the judge, who is also Hispanic. Amer has now been charged with public corruption in the attempt, and Rivera testified in federal court this week, revealing that he’s been working undercover with FBI agents seeking to charge Amer in the bribery scheme.

Political People and their Moves

University of Texas at Arlington President Jim Spaniolo announced his retirement after eight years. He will stay on until a search for his replacement has been completed.

The University of Texas at El Paso has selected Cheryl Torsney as its new senior vice provost. Torsney most recently served as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Jeff Moseley, former head of the Greater Houston Partnership and of Perry's own economic development division, to the Texas Transportation Commission. Moseley was Denton County Judge before joining the state's economic development agency.

The University of Texas at Arlington has announced the appointment of Shakeela J. Hunter, formerly of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as the university’s first director of student financial literacy.

Whitney Brewster is the new executive director of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. She was previously head of Alaska's DMV and held a number of other posts in that state's government. She's a Houston native and starts in early August.

Mark Eidman is joining Ryan Law, where he'll be senior partner in the Austin office of that tax litigation firm. He'll remain as a principal in Dallas-based Ryan LLC, a tax consultancy. Eidman had been with Austin-based Scott Douglas & McConnico. 

J.D. Salinas joins Advent GX as managing partner. He's a former Hidalgo County Judge and most recently was regional administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration.

Jeff Clark is the new executive director of The Wind Coalition. He's been the chief lobster for TechAmerica for more than five years, working a 13-state region that includes Texas.

Theresa Lucas is leaving the Texas Legislative Service after nearly 28 years there. She's been putting up with us for a long time, and we hope she has a very happy retirement.

The week's endorsements include:

• Former Rep. David McQuade Leibowitz for Tina Torres, who faces Philip Cortez in the HD-117 Democratic runoff. The winner will face Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio, in November.

• All of his former opponents endorsed Barry Smitherman for Railroad Commission over his runoff opponent, Greg Parker. Elizabeth Murray-Kolb and Al Lee combined for 28 percent in the first round.

• The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association PAC for Roger Williams in the CD-25 runoff against Wes Riddle.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, hosted a Dallas fundraiser for Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who's in a runoff with Donna Campbell in that SD-25 race. Campbell won an endorsement from Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.

• Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, for Jamaal Smith in the HD-137 runoff against Gene Wu. Smith is Ellis' former policy advisor.

• Conservative Republicans of Texas for Stephanie Klick in her HD-91 runoff with Ken Sapp.

• The Texas Farm Bureau's AGFUND threw in with Smitherman for one railroad commission seat and Warren Chisum over Christi Craddick for the other; with Supreme Court Justice David Medina over John Devine in that runoff; and David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

Married last weekend: Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Margaret Lleanna Elizondo, a Realtor and public school counselor.

Quotes of the Week

Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, in the majority opinion on the federal health care law

If state governments enact new immigration bills, we say bring it on. We will see them in court.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, to The New York Times on the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona's immigration law

We will vigorously oppose additional money for the public school system unless and until we are certain that the current accountability system is going to be maintained.

Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond on the backlash against standardized testing

The current system does not hold schools accountable for successfully educating and preparing students — rather it makes them beholden to performance on a single test.

Texas Workforce Commissioner and former state GOP chairman Tom Pauken, disagreeing

A 2,000-mile monument to the failure of Washington.

Lt. Gov. and U.S. Senate candidate David Dewhurst on the Mexico border in a new TV spot

I hate to refer to this, but, as you recall, the Berlin Wall was put up in 1961, and it was pretty effective. Now, if we have to go and use a method that is similar to the Berlin Wall, then I think we have to do that.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough on securing the border

A criminal is someone with predatory instincts but without sufficient capital to start a Super PAC.

Political consultant and pundit Matthew Dowd, tipping his hat to Clarence Darrow