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With Obama Presidency Sealed, Texas Lawmakers Face Policy Challenges

What does four more years of an Obama White House mean for the policy issues facing the overwhelmingly conservative Texas Legislature — and the interest groups and constituents who guide the political process?

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“Wait until we see who’s president.”

It’s been an oft-repeated refrain in the last year from state agency heads and Republican elected officials pressed to act on everything from the federal health care act to environmental reforms.

Now that the deal is sealed — four more years of the Obama administration — that line won’t hold up. So what does Tuesday night’s national outcome, a major win for Democrats, mean for the key policy hurdles facing the overwhelmingly conservative Texas Legislature — and the interest groups and constituents who guide them?

Health and Human Services

Federal health reform: The state’s Republican leaders can no longer ruminate on whether the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will be overturned, as Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney promised. Many of the law’s major tenets take effect in 2014, so state lawmakers will confront tough decisions in the upcoming legislative session. For starters, they’ll tackle whether to expand the Texas Medicaid program to include adults near the federal poverty line; the Supreme Court has said states don’t have to, and Gov. Rick Perry has pledged not to. But other lawmakers are eyeing the estimated $100 billion in federal funding that comes with it. Lawmakers will also have to bite the bullet and quickly roll out a state-specific health insurance exchange — kind of an Orbitz for health insurance shoppers — or else come to terms with letting the federal government do it for them. 

Women’s health: Expect four more years of tug-of-war between Texas and the federal government over women’s health and, in particular, the role of Planned Parenthood clinics. Any Republican hopes that a Romney administration would resume federal funding for a Texas reproductive health program that excludes clinics affiliated with abortion providers just vanished. The Obama administration has been an ally of Planned Parenthood and will continue to defend the organization.


Race to the Top:  Texas has resisted participating in Race to the Top, Obama's signature education policy, primarily due to its emphasis on common core curriculum standards. Perry and state education officials say it is the role of the state, not the federal government, to determine what's taught in Texas classrooms. But four more years of an Obama administration likely means other states will continue to adopt the common core curriculum, making Texas, which once dominated textbook markets, more of an outlier.

For-profit colleges: During his first term, Obama increased regulation of for-profit colleges, where students tend to have higher loan default rates. Under the new rules, schools can be cut off from federal student loans if they don't meet certain performance goals. Some Texas higher education observers were hopeful a Romney victory would lead to some deregulation. Now they’re faced with simply embracing the rules. 

Community college: This is an unusual area of agreement between Texas leaders and the president. The Obama administration has devoted much attention to and significantly raised the profile of public community colleges, a sector that is not used to the spotlight. The overwhelming majority of Texans begin their higher education career in two-year institutions, and Perry and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are increasingly turning to community colleges as a way to reduce the expense of higher education.

Energy and the Environment

EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency has been a primary target of angry Texas rhetoric, but Obama's re-election means that the EPA's recent policies — including greenhouse gas regulations and new mercury regulations for coal plants — are here to stay. Oil and gas drillers will be watching for new regulations on fracking, including controls on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Wind energy: The Texas wind industry will be cheering the president's re-election. Unlike Romney, Obama has backed an extension of an expiring tax credit that wind advocates consider vital. Whether Congress goes along still remains to be seen.


Comprehensive reform and the DREAM Act: Obama retained the support of most Texas Hispanics, but they have expressed frustration over his failure to even attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform or the DREAM Act, something he promised he would do as a candidate. Instead, the Obama administration has deported in one term more undocumented immigrants than his predecessor did in two. If Obama pursues such policies in his second term, expect border governors like Perry to weigh in on the issue — and state Republicans to fight hard for borders security measures.

State-based immigration enforcement: The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year that allowed a key provision of Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law to stand will almost certainly pave the way for conservative lawmakers in Texas to file similar legislation. But don’t expect the Obama administration to roll over on this one if Texas modifies its version of the immigration crackdown law; the Department of Justice has repeatedly questioned perceived civil rights violations and has targeted some local immigration law enforcers. 

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