Texas politics: Abbott — The $94 Billion Man

Published 10:38 am Thursday, May 28, 2015

While Gov. Greg Abbott revels in a $3.8 billion tax cut proposed for the next two years, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call him the $94 billion man.

That’s how much Abbott’s choice to refuse Texas’ participation in expanding Medicaid will cost Texas taxpayers over a decade.

The Medicaid expansion is built into the federal Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare. It is designed to add millions of low-income people without health insurance to the rolls of the insured.

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As bait for the states, the feds made it a really good deal.

The federal government is paying all the cost for Medicaid expansion for the first three years, and then gradually drops its share of the cost to 90 percent for the remainder of the decade.

In Texas, an investment of less than $6 billion over a decade would bring $94 billion in federal funds. For every dollar Texas invests, the feds would kick in more than $13.

However, the United States Supreme Court made it optional for states to participate.

So former Gov. Rick Perry, courting the right-wing vote for Republican presidential nominee, turned it down for Texas.

Still, because the federal share of Medicaid expansion is paid for with federal tax dollars, Texans’ federal taxes pay for Medicaid expansion — in participating states — not Texas.

Many Republican officeholders, including governors, have vehemently opposed the Affordable Care Act, and Medicaid expansion — mostly, it seems, because Obama is for it.

When Perry turned over the governor’s office to Abbott in January, Abbott could have reversed that costly decision. But he chose to copy Perry’s attitude: if Obama is for it, it must be bad.

About half the states have accepted Medicaid expansion, including at least a dozen with Republican governors. They figured it was too good to pass up.

Most Texas business groups, including the Texas Association of Business, medical and hospital groups, chambers of commerce, and others have called for accepting the coverage.

Gov. Abbott has a choice:

— Accept Medicaid expansion, and put a million currently uninsured Texans on the insurance rolls; add tens of thousand of jobs for the Texas workforce; and improve the overall health of Texans.

Or, continue as the $94 billion man — not the $94 billion he brings in for Texans, but the $94 billion that he costs them.

• • •

Same-Sex Shuffle . . . . There was lots of resistance initially the bill carried by Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, to protect preachers from being forced to preside over same-sex weddings.

Never mind that chances are slim that it would ever occur, and even slimmer that a same-sex couple would want someone who thinks their wedding is wrong to perform it.

The Republicans in the Texas House were almost unanimously in favor SB  2065, whose House sponsor is Sanford, a Baptist preacher.

Democrats had been expected to be almost unanimously opposed. But they decided to take a new tack.

They encouraged supporting the bill, essentially saying that if Republicans think the preacher-protection bill is necessary, that also must mean its proponents consider legal same-sex marriage in Texas inevitable.

And Rep. Celia Israel, the Democrat who represents northeast Austin and its suburbs, who is open about being a Lesbian, said clergy against same-sex marriages shouldn’t worry about being forced to perform them should the Supreme Court rule this summer that state laws prohibiting them are unconstitutional.

“Some fine day, my partner and I are going to be able to get married in the great state of Texas,” Israel told her colleagues.

“When that day comes, rest assured, to those pastors and preachers who take a more literal interpretation of the Bible, my partner and I of 20 years will not be going to them to bless our union,” Israel said. “I will be going to someone who loves and respects us for who we are.”

• • •

Patrick Priorities. . . . Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the presiding officer of the Texas Senate, said by passing three “major priorities,” the Senate has demonstrated it may be better than ever before.

One is increasing the homestead exemption to hold down homeowners’ property tax bills.

The second is border security — more money to keep troops and police on the border with Mexico.

The third is “open carry” — allowing those licensed to carry a handgun to do so openly (which most law enforcement officers hate).

“I am proud of the fact the legislature is making history while defending life, liberty and our Second Amendment Right,” Patrick’s statement said.

“I believe this agreement establishes the framework for what will be one of the most, if not the most, productive legislative sessions in the history of the Texas Senate.”

Contact McNeely at davemcneely111@gmail.com or 512/458-2963.