For Some Texas Republicans, Federal Action is Payback

State Sen. Dan Patrick says he knows why the federal government has intervened on two key bills facing Texas lawmakers in the final days of the legislative session: “retribution.”

Retribution for efforts of GOP leaders to stop “intrusive” Transportation Security Administration airport security screenings, and seize control of Medicaid and Medicare from the federal government. Retribution for a flurry of anti-federal health reform and states' rights bills — even the appointment of a specific state sovereignty committee — aimed at pushing back against the Obama administration.

“This is why the Tea Party movement is alive and well,” said Patrick, R-Houston, the day after a threat from the federal government to shutter Texas airports or cancel flights effectively derailed the TSA “anti-groping” bill he was carrying in the Senate. “To fight against a federal government that bullies and threatens individual states.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment on any allegations of payback, instead pointing to efforts made by the Obama administration to offer states, including Texas, flexibility in Medicaid and other joint state-federal endeavors.

But some Republican state lawmakers say the proof is in the pudding.

Patrick says he was forced Tuesday to withdraw House Bill 1937, which would have make it a misdemeanor for a federal airport security agent to intentionally or knowingly grope someone, after two TSA officials visited him in the Senate and a U.S. attorney sent a letter to state leaders contending that the measure would directly conflict with federal law.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission wrote state leaders a letter warning that one of the key health reform bills championed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, could pose “a substantial risk of consumer harm, by increasing costs and decreasing access to health care.” In the case of this measure, Senate Bill 8, lawmakers have moved forward undeterred — but fired off an angry response to the feds.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office says all of this is simply federal micromanagement of issues best addressed by the state. “Washington has a handful of important responsibilities to the citizens of our nation,” said Lucy Nashed, a Perry spokeswoman. “They ought to focus on doing those rather than trying to strong-arm states into abiding by one-size-fits-all mandates.”

But Democrats suggest it’s Texas Republicans who are doing the bullying, whether it’s trying — so far unsuccessfully — to intervene in federal health reform or airport security screenings, passing a resolution demanding a constitutional amendment for a balanced federal budget, or, in the case of the dunes sagebrush lizard, even refuting federal endangered species designations. State leaders’ efforts to seize control of Medicaid and Medicare from the Feds are just the icing on the cake, said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston: The Obama administration will never agree to such changes in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, so it’s a safe platform for opponents of federal health care reform to spew anti-Washington rhetoric.   

Patrick says this is how the Obama administration rolls: “If you don’t do it their way, you get bullied into it.” But Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, who chairs the House Select Committee on State Sovereignty, says he doesn’t necessarily classify the federal government’s recent involvement in state legislation as “retribution.”

“It isn’t unusual for state efforts and federal efforts to either overlap,” he said — “or sometimes clash.”

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