At Capitol, the Sky Is Falling

Chicken Littles Perry, Dewhurst, and Craddick try -- and fail -- to create a scandal to blame on the missing Democrats.

Since the Capitol Republicans are fond of calling the absconding Democratic legislators the "Chicken D's," maybe they won't mind being termed the "Chicken Littles." On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker Tom Craddick invited the press corps for a "very important announcement" that turned out to be another variation of "the sky is falling ... and it's the Democrats' fault." Perry told the cameras that Attorney General Greg Abbott had opined that $167 million in federal funds "can now be used to increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for health care providers and expand community care services for the elderly and poor." Since that's exactly the sort of program the federal money had been appropriated for -- and the governor and the Legislative Budget Board have the authority over such interim spending -- the news was not a tremendous surprise, but the governor and the comptroller locked press releases about it last week. The money will be spent (in the current biennium) to supplement Medicaid providers' reimbursements (previously slashed under the new state budget) and restore cuts to home-care services (ditto).

The real point of the press conference was to bludgeon the AWOL Senate Democrats again, because the governor (echoed by Dewhurst and Craddick) wants "Texans to know that, despite recent disruptions ... with or without some of our Democrat colleagues, we will do everything we can to improve funding for health care, education, and transportation." Asked if any of those items would have motivated him to call a special session without redistricting, Perry said, "They're already added to the call -- I don't know how you call a special special session."

The Democrats were quick to respond with their own press conference, just as the House was about to return to the floor after a week's adjournment. Houston Rep. Garnet Coleman -- accompanied by Jim Dunnam of Waco, Joe Deshotel of Beaumont, and Dora Olivo of Rosenberg -- argued that no AG opinion was necessary to spend the funds and that in any case the money would not provide health care "for one additional person," and "no new elderly people will receive care" because of the funds. Coleman repeatedly accused Perry of "hypocrisy" for "talking out of both sides of his mouth" about health care and social services; he invited House and Senate Republicans to join him in sponsoring HB 41 to restore $604 million in health and human services funding eliminated under the new state budget. The Dems said Perry was simply trying to put a charitable face on the GOP's determination to push through congressional re-redistricting, and Dunnam accused Perry of "holding up children as shields" against negative public reaction.

Dewhurst had told reporters that after "a reasonable period" of waiting for the senators to return by choice, he might have to "explore other legal options" to force their return, although he declined to be more specific. Asked if the House Democrats might likewise take legal action should this session expire and the governor call yet another, Democratic caucus Chair Dunnam said that his colleagues would continue to "put Texas first -- and if that requires going to Alaska, that's what we're going to do."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

78th Legislature, Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, Garnet Coleman, Medicaid, Jim Dunnam

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