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The Three-Party System

The House debate on the budget flushed out a new coalition in a Legislature split between traditional and populist Republicans, and Democrats. The losers? The populist Republicans, many of them freshmen.

Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has left the House, and would-be successors are lining up.

School vouchers were voted down 103-43 during a budget debate in the Texas House that repeatedly pitted a group of conservative Republicans against their colleagues from both parties.

Instead of establishment and populist Republicans banding together against the Democrats, the working coalition during this week’s budget debate combined the traditional Republicans and the Democrats against the populists.

The vote against vouchers — on an amendment by Abel Herrero, D-Robstown — would prevent any money from the Texas Education Agency’s budget being used to “pay for or support school vouchers of scholarships for private primary or secondary education.” Democrats voted unanimously in favor of it, as did a narrow 48-43 majority of Republicans.

The losers in that and other votes included a large contingent of freshmen, who were badly overmatched in a series of debates during the long debate. In most cases, the lessons came from more experienced Republicans, who questioned the new officeholders on amendments that would defund various programs and move the money into others, such as TRS-Care, the health insurance program for retired teachers and an account that assists volunteer firefighters.

The votes were uniformly lopsided. The House generally sided with Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, by a more than two-to-one margin. Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, started the debate by telling lawmakers what was and was not included in the $193.8 billion budget proposal.

The House also added an amendment that would open the door to negotiations for expanding Medicaid — something Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t want to do. The first time it came up, the amendment was adopted 86-57, with 51 Democrats in favor and Republicans voting 35-57 against it. A few hours later, the House voted 93-54 to reconsider, and the author, Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, withdrew the amendment before it an up-or-down vote on the merits.

That might or might not be the end of that conversation. The Senate already passed a budget that includes a provision similar to the one added and then deleted by the House. That keeps the issue alive — but badly weakened — as negotiators from the two chambers reconcile the differences in their budgets. The Senate voted for it, and the provision was pulled from consideration before the House could vote against it; that leaves it undefeated, sort of, and on life support.

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