, Port Arthur, Texas


May 16, 2013

The Obama-Perry meeting in Austin

AUSTIN — While President Barack Obama was talking to students at Manor New Technology High School, northeast of Austin, and stopped off for barbecue and a chat with some citizens downtown at Stubbs, the Texas House of Representatives was grinding away.

That day, Thursday, May 9, was the last day House bills could get tentative approval. If a bill didn't — and the calendar had several pages of bills that never came up — it was dead.

There were only 18 days after that one until the 140-day session ends on May 27.

It may seem odd for the President to pick Austin to barnstorm for more high-tech jobs, and the education to do them.

That's not because Austin isn't the hub for a lot of cutting-edge things in high tech, because it is. It's because it's the capital of a very red Republican state, that gave Obama just 43.7 percent in 2008, and 41.4 percent in 2012.

Not only that: the governor of Texas, Republican Rick Perry, apparently wants to run again for the job Obama holds – against many things Obama is for. Like broadened health care, nicknamed "Obamacare," and Medicaid expansion, which Perry has said Texas won't do even though the feds will fund it for the first few years.

To toot his horn, Perry even welcomed Obama to the state where Perry has been governor for a dozen years with a half-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman, plus an opinion column, noting Texas leads all states in attracting new businesses.

"Mr. President – take a look at our successful 'Texas Model,' " Perry advises.

"Here's a handy checklist for you to take back to Washington:

• Low taxes

• Lawsuit abuse reform

• Predictable and effective regulations

• Balanced budgets

• Accountable schools and a competitive workforce."

Perry also said that over the last five years, the United States has lost 2.5 million net jobs, while Texas created 530,000 new ones.

Perry's ad understandably didn't mention Democratic charges that his no-new-taxes budget-balancing in 2011, with spending cuts alone, crimped even further the state's ability to offer public school students a quality education.

Or that the governor in 2009, while damning Obama's continuation of stimulus funding started under former President George W. Bush, used $6 billion of the stimulus money to balance the budget.

But that didn't stop Perry from greeting Obama when he deplaned from Air Force One. They shook hands in a non-hostile manner, talked briefly, and the President even clapped the Governor on the shoulder before climbing in his limo.

Meanwhile, the Texas House and Senate were trying to decide if they could, or should, fund water and highway projects, and make up some of the $5.4 billion legislators cut from schools two years ago.

The Senate unanimously voted to propose a constitutional amendment to give voters the power to authorize taking $5.7 of the anticipated $12 billion from the Rainy Day Fund. Or not.

But the House, led by Speaker Joe Straus, was cool on providing the two-thirds vote to put the Senate's proposal on the ballot. Straus indicated legislators should do the spending chores themselves, rather than push the job off on the state's voters in November.

However, the House couldn't agree on how to pay for the water fund. Conservative Republicans nixed a proposal to take it from the Rainy Day Fund, as did Democrats, worried about a provision that could mean the water money could come at the expense of schools.

Perry's implied criticism of Obama weakened a bit when, two days after the President's whirlwind Texas visit, the Associated Press reported April's $113 billion federal budget surplus was the largest in five years.

The fiscal year will still record a deficit, AP reported, but "steady economic growth and higher tax rates have boosted the tax revenue in recent months, keeping this year's annual budget deficit on pace to be the smallest since 2008."

Although the nation's 7.5 percent unemployment rate is more than Texas' 6.4 percent, it is still the lowest since Obama became president in 2009.

Perry hasn't said whether he'll seek re-election in 2014, or the presidency in 2016. But meanwhile, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm out of North Carolina, doubts he's the Texan Most Likely to Succeed in a White House run.

Perry continues to get one to two percent in its Republican presidential polls, the firm said. So for now, it will replace him with Texas' junior Republican senator, Tea Party hotshot Ted Cruz.

Contact McNeely at or 512/458-2963.

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