Updated, 9:20 p.m.:
Budget negotiations stretched late into the night on Wednesday, but lawmakers said privately they didn’t expect to announce a deal until Thursday.
House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts said earlier in the evening that lawmakers were working to resolve some “pending items” and that he hoped to secure a deal by midnight.
Some conservative House members are threatening to derail a 2014-15 budget deal and send lawmakers into a special session if negotiators do not remove a contentious rider that would set up a framework for Medicaid expansion in Texas.
Budget conferees are currently meeting in an effort to finalize a budget agreement by midnight.
House GOP Caucus Chairman Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said he has sent a letter to House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, reminding him that the House has taken a position “against adding any language or signing off on a budget that adds any language for a framework to possibly expand eligibility for Medicaid.”
A high-ranking House aide said Wednesday evening that the rider is on the chopping block, and that the decision was made ahead of Creighton's letter.
When the Senate and House budget conferees tentatively approved Article II of the upcoming biennium’s budget on Monday, they included a rider that declares the state’s preferred terms for reforming Medicaid if Texas decides to negotiate a deal with the federal government to expand the program — despite some conservative lawmakers' threats to veto the budget if such a rider were included.
Although the tentative budget does not include financing to expand Medicaid eligibility in the upcoming biennium, the rider would create a framework for Medicaid expansion in a “what if” scenario.
It reads, “No amount may be expended to modify Medicaid eligibility” unless the state reaches an agreement with the federal government to “create more efficient health care coverage.” The rider also says the Legislative Budget Board, which includes the lieutenant governor and speaker, must ensure that any deal reached with the federal government to expand Medicaid eligibility cuts uncompensated care costs; promotes the use of private coverage and health savings accounts; establishes wellness incentives, cost-sharing initiatives and pay-for-performance initiatives; and reduces the state’s need to gain federal approval to make “minor changes” to the program.
(You can read the budget rider here, under contingent provisions in Article 9, Sec. 17.12. Certain Medicaid Funds.)
Creighton said he sent the letter to Pitts as a reminder that the House had approved a nonbinding motion instructing budget conferees to reject Medicaid expansion language in the budget. He also sent a statement to Pitts mirroring that sentiment, which was signed by 16 members of a House policy review committee that gives GOP members recommendations on whether to support or oppose upcoming bills on the House calendar.
“I would hope that the budget comes back over here without any language” on Medicaid expansion, Creighton said. He indicated that many Republican members would be willing to vote down the budget, ultimately sending the Legislature into a summer session, if the current language related to Medicaid expansion was included. “It’s a very important issue to many Republicans, and it’s arguably tied to our financial wellbeing as a state,” he said.
Creighton isn't the only one weighing in.
“I am alarmed to learn that funding Medicaid expansion is included in the budget,” state Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, wrote in a letter to Pitts on Tuesday. He also emphasized that 87 House members had voted for the nonbinding motion directing the budget conferees not to include an expansion of Medicaid in the budget.