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Straus Picks Lead Budget Negotiators

The House on Monday sent five members to negotiate a budget with the Senate, with instructions to avoid anything that looks like it would expand the state's Medicaid program.

House Speaker Joe Straus (l), R-San Antonio, adjourns the House of Representatives sine die on June 29, 2011.

The lawmakers who will sit at the most closely watched negotiating table of the legislative session were named Monday, and their colleagues started them off with instructions to stay away from anything that would expand the Medicaid program in Texas.

The Texas House passed a $193.8 billion budget earlier this month. The Senate approved a $195.5 billion budget in March. The conference committee is tasked with resolving differences between the two documents and coming up with a budget both chambers can support.

Along with Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, House Speaker Joe Straus tapped state Reps. Myra Crownover, R-Denton; John Otto, R-Dayton; Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and John Zerwas, R-Simonton. Last week, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced the Senate conferees: Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Sens. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; and John Whitmire, D-Houston.

The House considered several proposed nonbinding “instructions” to direct House conferees during the negotiations on the final budget. The instructions are nonbinding, prompting state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston to ask at one point whether the instructions are “a waste of time.”

One, from state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, instructed conferees to not accept language that could expand Medicaid eligibility. Lawmakers have been wrestling all session with whether to expand the program, a necessary step to draw billions of federal dollars through federal health care reform. But the House doesn't like the idea and narrowly passed the measure 77-68.

Two House members who urged their colleagues to reject the measure, Turner and Zerwas, were among Straus' picks for the conference committee. Both men said the instructions were unnecessary since lawmakers can't make law via the budget bill. 

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Economy State government 83rd Legislative Session Budget Joe Straus Medicaid Texas House of Representatives Texas Legislature