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The Brief: November 9, 2009

With 220 approving U.S. House votes down and the U.S. Senate to go, healthcare reform is now closer to becoming a reality — but that’s no easy hurdle ahead.

THE BIG CONVERSATION:

With 220 approving U.S. House votes down and the U.S. Senate to go, healthcare reform is now closer to becoming a reality — but that’s no easy hurdle ahead.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Texas delegation split almost entirely along party lines — Democrats for, Republicans against — in Saturday’s vote approving healthcare reform. There was one exception: U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, voted against it.

“Given the huge federal deficits facing our nation, I believe there is too much new spending in this bill,” Edwards said in a statement.  “I am especially disappointed that the bill does not have a fiscal trigger in it to cut spending if actual costs of new programs turn out to be higher than projected.”

Here's a counterpoint from U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi: "Currently, 60 percent of uninsured small business owners and employees do not have access to affordable and comprehensive coverage.  I am pleased that this legislation will allow 13,800 small businesses in my district to obtain affordable health care coverage."

In order to pass a bill that includes a version of the much-discussed public option — many Democrats swallowed hard and allowed an amendment with heavy restrictions on abortion funding pass.  The House bill does not include an option for states to opt out of the overhaul, as recently discussed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

The U.S. Senate could prove difficult to maneuver in the bill's favor. U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has pledged to join a Republican filibuster should a public option remain on the bill.  And, healthcare reformers certainly shouldn’t expect any help from the Senators from Texas.

“It’s a terrible bill, and we will do everything we can to stop it,” U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Dallas, said Sunday on Fox News.  Today, look for her to bring that message to voters in Corpus Christi and McAllen as she campaigns for Governor.

CULLED

• Democrats’ hopes of seizing control of the Texas House of Representatives in 2010 grew dim this weekend with the defection of state Rep. Chuck Hopson — now "R-Jacksonville." With the earlier news that state Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, would not seek reelection, the Ds are now down two incumbent members in heavily Republican territory.  Both men were part of a dwindling group known as the “WD-40s” — white Democrats over 40 — members who have maintained party loyalty as the surrounding political tide turned red.  Hopson is planning a coming out party this week featuring special appearances by notable Republicans such as Speaker of the House Joe Straus, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.  Meanwhile, Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka wonders if more party-hopping might be on the way.  “I wonder if this current spate of party switching hasn’t been orchestrated to build momentum,” he writes, “first the Hardin County officials, then Hopson, then…Heflin? Homer?”

• The race to replace retiring state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, is officially under way.  The first to take his mark and get set is County Attorney Jose Rodriguez, a Democrat.  The Tribune's Brandi Grissom reports that Rodriguez will "work to unite" the "famously fractious" El Paso delegation. Other potential contenders (both Democrats) include former Tigua Gov. Albert Alvidrez and state Rep. Norma Chavez, whose Thanksgiving deadline for deciding whether to seek the Senate or reelection is still awhile away.

• The end of last week was chock-full of bleak economic news. In October, the national unemployment rate rose above 10 percent — it is now 10.2 percent — for the first time since 1983.  October also brought a big drop in Texas’ sales tax revenue — with $1.52 billion collected, according to Comptroller Susan Combs, the state’s take is down 12.8 percent from last year.   This marks the ninth straight month of falling sales tax collections. 

• Despite rumors to the contrary, Houston Mayor Bill White is running for U.S. Senate and — his campaign is pretty adamant about this — will not be switching over to the Texas’ Governor’s race.

•Waiting for closure in the Cameron Todd Willingham case?  “Get comfortable,” advise the Tribune’s Matt Stiles and Emily Ramshaw.  The new chair of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, John Bradley says the board does not currently possess the rules, staff, or resources to conduct investigations into allegations of faulty science in criminal cases.

• Military investigators have determined that there was, indeed, only one gunman — Major Nidal Malik Hasan — in Thursday’s massacre at Fort Hood.  Investigations are still underway as to whether there were any co-plotters. Maj. Hasan, who survived four gunshot wounds, has been taken off a ventilator and remains in the intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Legal experts say many hurdles lie ahead and justice in the case could be slow to come.  In the meantime, flags at government buildings have been ordered to remain at half-mast until Veterans’ Day in honor of the victims.

“Texas doesn’t actually exist.” — Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, speaking to students at the University of Texas at Austin.  He went on to explain that being Texan is “a state of mind.”

MUST READ:

Pursuing death penalty in Fort Hood shooting may be difficultThe Dallas Morning News

Surprises under Williamson DA's imageAustin American-Statesman

Scratch-off tickets now can fund vets servicesSan Antonio Express News

El Paso gun sales shoot upEl Paso Times

Rep. Chuck Hopson Switching Parties; As a Former Employee, I Feel Betrayed Burnt Orange Report

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