The Year in Review: Texas Politics

davis-perry-cruzRick Perry announced that he will leave office, just in time for the children born his first year in office to enter high school.

Wendy Davis and Ted Cruz rode their soap boxes into the political stratosphere, with her attempting to jump from the state Senate to the Governor’s Mansion and him kicking the tires on a presidential run, with visits to states that wouldn’t normally be intriguing to a U.S. senator from Texas.

It’s the year the Democrats unveiled new plans to get back into a competitive position in Texas state politics, and the year that the obstacles fell from the Republican political ladder and freed a swarm of candidates to run for statewide office.

2013 was supposed to be a political interim, a year when the focus of Texans interested in civics turned from mostly politics to mostly policy. With a couple of exceptions — including the constitutional amendment on water and the race for mayor in Houston — the ballots were quiet.

The year started with Cruz taking office after his surprise defeat of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2012, and with the Legislature coming to work with a huge Republican contingent that was just short of the supermajority needed to completely ignore the Democrats.

Cruz immediately made it clear that he wasn’t going to follow the longstanding advice to freshman members of any legislative body — that they should take their seats and close their mouths until they have a few years of experience. With a talent for getting in front of cameras and a ready message for Republicans coming out of a disappointing national election in 2012, he ends his first year in office better known to friends and foes than many senators in their second and third terms.

That legislative situation was new, too. A supermajority doesn’t have to listen to a minority, and Republicans in the Texas House who were almost impervious to Democratic influence in 2011 started 2013 ready to talk. What followed got the regular biennial meeting of the Legislature branded “The Kumbaya Session,” with members pulling together on prickly issues from water to the state budget. They restored 2011’s public education cuts. They left that session, the legislative equivalent of a G-rated Pixar movie, and started a series of special sessions that could have been scripted by Quentin Tarantino, focused on messy political issues like redistricting and abortion and women’s health.

Lawmakers forfeited some of the goodwill that marked the first five months of the year. And they made a star of Davis, the Democratic state senator from Fort Worth whose filibuster on abortion and women’s health services marked the end of the first special session. The legislation itself passed in another special session and got Perry’s signature. It’s now being litigated. But the livestreamed event got international attention, and the politician at the focal point — Davis — is now running for governor. She might have run for statewide office without that boost. But with it, she instantly built a fundraising base around the country and kindled hope among Texas Democrats who have been shut out of statewide office for almost two decades.

A couple of weeks later, the other side of the governor’s race opened up, when Perry announced he wouldn’t be seeking another term in 2014. That freed Attorney General Greg Abbott to get into that race without challenging the incumbent and set up a potential general election next year — assuming both win their primaries — between a couple of candidates with interesting personal stories and easy-to-distinguish political profiles.

Perry’s decision to get out of state politics triggered a game of musical chairs on the Republican side of the ballot. Democrats were free to file for any office; since no Democrats hold statewide posts, the candidates don’t have to defer to any officeholders. On the Republican side, Perry’s move opened Abbott’s job. Dewhurst is the only Republican in statewide executive office trying to hold his current position, but he’s weakened by his loss to Cruz in last year’s U.S. Senate race. Three officeholders who supported him then are opposing him now. Among other things, that means the offices — land commissioner, agriculture commissioner and a state Senate seat — are open.

Since 1994, the last time the Democrats won a statewide race in Texas, all a Republican has had to do is get out of the GOP primary alive. That’s harder this year, with all of the candidates. And the Democrats hope to change the math in November.

A year ago, out-of-state liberals announced a program they call Battleground Texas, designed to organize Texas voters and make the state competitive in November elections. The national math behind that is compelling for both parties: Without Texas’ electoral votes, it would be virtually impossible for a Republican to win the presidency without flipping a number of other states. The Battleground Texas organizers said at the start that they didn’t expect fast results, and that they might not chalk up big wins for four years, or six.

Some Democrats are hoping candidates like Davis — and like state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat running for lieutenant governor — can speed that up and turn the state purple.

Political maps make that proposition more difficult in races for Congress and the state Legislature. Most districts were drawn to favor one party or the other, and only a few could go either way, given the current behavior of voters. Higher turnout could change things in a few districts, but in most, the numbers are set. With some shifts possible here and there, the next versions of the Texas House and Senate, and of the state’s congressional delegation, will probably look a lot like they look right now, with respect to parties.

One more thing about Texas politics in 2013: national politics in 2016. Perry didn’t say he was done with politics — just that he won’t seek another term in the state’s top position. He has not said he wants to run for president again after his ill-fated run for the nomination last time, but he is doing the sorts of things one might do if one wanted to investigate the possibility of another run for national office. Cruz’s explorations, already noted, could put another Texan into the mix.

And this wasn’t even supposed to be a political year.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/31/2013-year-politics/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Ross Ramsey, The Texas TribuneRoss Ramsey is managing editor of the Texas Tribune, and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. TW was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, Internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly two million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas.

Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was Associate Deputy Comptroller for Policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's Director of Communications.

Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin Bureau Chief.

Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas

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In Deficit Debate, Public Resists Cuts in Entitlements and Aid to Poor

Photo courtesy of Sal Falko / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Sal Falko / Flickr

As President Obama prepares to sign a bipartisan budget agreement that its proponents describe as a modest step toward addressing the deficit, the public shows little appetite for making some of the spending cuts often discussed as part of a broader “grand bargain” on the budget.

Spending for Entitlements, Aid to Poor Favored over Deficit ReductionThe latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 3-8 among 2,001 adults, finds majorities say it is more important to maintain spending on Social Security and Medicare and programs to help the poor than to take steps to reduce the budget deficit. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say it is more important to maintain current Social Security and Medicare benefits than to reduce the deficit, while 59% prioritize keeping current levels of spending for programs that help the poor and needy over deficit reduction.

There is greater public support for cutting military spending in order to achieve deficit reduction. About half of Americans (51%) say reducing the deficit is more important than keeping military spending at current levels, while 40% say deficit reduction is more important.

Views of tradeoffs between government spending and deficit reduction are divided along partisan lines, and the differences are especially pronounced when it comes to programs that aid the poor and needy. Fully 84% of Democrats say it is more important to keep current spending levels for these programs than to reduce the deficit. A majority of Republicans (55%) say cutting the deficit is more important than maintaining current spending for programs to help the poor.

By contrast, majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (66%) and Republicans (62%) say it is more important to continue current spending levels for Social Security and Medicare than to take steps to reduce the budget deficit.

The survey finds that at a time when the nation’s annual budget deficit has fallen considerably over the past year, according to the Office of Management and Budget, most Americans do not think the country has made progress in reducing the deficit. Two-thirds of Americans (66%) say the country has not made progress in reducing the federal budget deficit, while just 29% say progress has been achieved.

In general terms, the public continues to support a mix of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the federal budget deficit. About six-in-ten (63%) say the best way to reduce the deficit is with a combination of cuts in major programs and tax increases; 20% say the primary focus should be on spending cuts and just 7% say it should be on raising taxes. Since 2010, majorities have supported a combination of spending cuts and tax increases, though last December somewhat more (74%) favored this approach.

Wide Partisan Differences over Cuts in Aid to Poor, Military Spending

Republicans Willing to Cut Aid to Poor to Reduce Deficit; Democrats Would Cut Military SpendingRepublicans, by a 55%-to-35% margin, say it is more important to take steps to reduce the deficit than to preserve current spending on programs to aid the poor and needy. Fully 84% of Democrats and 53% of independents favor maintaining current levels of spending on aid to the poor over deficit reduction.

Tea Party Republicans, in particular, prioritize deficit reduction over programs to aid the poor. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party (73%) say deficit reduction is more important than preserving present levels of spending on programs to aid the poor and needy. Just 48% of non-Tea Party Republicans express this view, while about as many (44%) say that maintaining spending on these programs is more important.

There also are substantial partisan differences over whether it is more important to keep current levels of military spending or to reduce the deficit. In this case, most Democrats (60%) rate deficit reduction as more important, compared with 53% of independents and just 36% of Republicans. Liberal Democrats are especially likely to say it’s more important to reduce the deficit (72%) than maintain military spending (21%); among conservative and moderate Democrats, 54% prioritize the deficit, 40% military spending.

Across party lines, the public is unwilling to cut Social Security and Medicare to take steps to reduce the deficit. This view is held by majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (66%) and Republicans (62%). However, there are differences among Republicans. Just 45% of Republicans and GOP leaners who agree with the Tea Party prioritize maintaining current levels of spending on Social Security and Medicare, compared with 66% of non-Tea Party Republicans.

In the current survey, there are very few consistent “deficit hawks” – those who prioritize the deficit over keeping current levels of spending in all three areas tested (military, aid to needy, Social Security and Medicare). Just 9% of the public consistently says deficit reduction is more important than the three areas of spending tested; this percentage is not much higher within the GOP (14%) or among Tea Party Republicans (18%).

Support for Military Cuts among Young People

Support for reducing the deficit through cuts to the military is particularly high among young people, under the age of 30. By two-to-one, more young people say it’s more important to take steps to reduce the deficit (64%) than to keep military spending at current levels (32%). By contrast, those ages 65 and older prioritize maintaining military spending over deficit reduction by a 55%-31% margin.

Within the GOP, Republicans and Republican leaners under age 50 are roughly divided, with 49% supporting deficit reduction and 42% maintaining military spending. More Older Americans Prioritize Military Spending over Deficit ReductionOlder Republicans are much more supportive of the military (60% maintain spending, 30% cut deficit).

A similar age gap exists within the Democratic Party. Democrats under 50 prioritize deficit reduction over military spending by a wide 71%-26% margin. Among older Democrats, that balance of opinion is more closely divided (51% reduce deficit, 41% maintain military spending).

There is less of an age divide when it comes to views of Social Security and Medicare benefits and deficit reduction. On entitlements, the youngest Americans (ages 18-29) prioritize maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits over deficit reduction by a 61%-30%; among the oldest segment of the public, those ages 65 and older, 78% say it is more important to maintain benefits, while 14% say it is more important to reduce the deficit.

Income Differences in Views of Deficit and Spending

Deficit reduction is not as high a priority for lower-income households as for those earning more, especially when it comes to programs that help the poor and needy.

Those Lower-Income Households Prioritize Spending over Deficit Reductionin households earning less than $30,000 a year are divided when it comes to the deficit and military spending; about as many prioritize maintaining current spending (47%) as reducing the deficit (45%). By contrast, majorities in households earning $30,000 a year or more say it’s more important to reduce the deficit than maintain military spending.

There is strong support among lower-income households for maintaining programs that serve the poor and needy. Three-quarters of those in households earning less than $30,000 a year say it is more important to keep spending for programs that help the poor at current levels; just 19% say it is more important to reduce the budget deficit. This view is held by a smaller 57% majority of those earning $30,000-$74,999; those who make $75,000 a year or more divide about evenly between prioritizing deficit reduction (47%) and maintaining assistance to the needy (46%).

As it does with party affiliation, support for Social Security and Medicare benefits crosses income levels. Majorities in all income categories say it is more important to keep Social Security and Medicare spending at current levels than to take steps to reduce the deficit. Those earning less than $30,000 a year say this by the most one-sided margin (78%-18%).

GOP Divided in Views of Deficit, Programs to Aid Poor

Republicans are divided by income in views about whether it is more important to maintain current spending on programs to aid the poor or take steps to reduce the deficit. Among Republicans and Republican leaners with family incomes of less than $50,000 a year, 48% say it is more important to maintain spending for the poor and needy, while 44% say deficit reduction is more important. Among those with incomes of at least $50,000 a year, deficit reduction is the higher priority by a wide 72%-20% margin.

Lower-Income Republicans Prioritize  Aid to Poor over Deficit ReductionRepublicans also differ over the other items tested, with higher-income households expressing greater levels of support for deficit reduction than those earning less. Democrats and Democratic leaners generally are less divided by income in views of spending and deficit reduction, though higher-income Democrats are more willing than those with lower incomes to accept cuts in military spending to reduce the deficit (74% vs. 54%).

Most Saw No Progress on Deficit in 2013

In a year that saw deep, automatic spending cuts as part of the budget sequestration, but failed to produce a long-term agreement addressing entitlements and the tax code, the public does not believe the country has made progress reducing the budget deficit. Two-thirds (66%) say that over the course of the last year, the country has not made progress reducing the budget deficit; just 29% say it has.

Wide Partisan Gap in Perceptions of Progress on Deficit There is deep disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on whether or not the country has made progress on the deficit in the last year.

Half of Democrats (50%), including 60% of liberal Democrats, say the country has made progress reducing the budget deficit over the course of 2013. By contrast, nearly nine-in-ten Republicans (87%) say the country has not made progress on the deficit. Among independents, 73% say the country has not made progress on the deficit, 23% say it has.

Tea Party Republicans Split on Best Way to Reduce Deficit

In general, the public continues to say that the best way to reduce the budget deficit is through a combination of tax increases and cuts in major programs. About six-in-ten (63%) favor a mix of tax increases and spending cuts; only 20% say the focus should be mostly on programs cuts, even fewer (7%) say it should be mostly on tax increases. The balance of opinion on this question has changed only modestly over the last several years, with majorities consistently expressing support for a mix of program cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit.

Best Way to Reduce Deficit?  Both Program Cuts and Tax IncreasesMajorities of Democrats (71%), independents (63%) and Republicans (56%) favor addressing the deficit through a combination of both tax increases and programs cuts. However, Republicans (32%) are far more likely than Democrats (10%) to see cuts in programs alone as the best way to reduce the deficit.

Among Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party, as many say the focus of deficit reduction efforts should be mostly on programs cuts (48%) as on a combination of both cuts and tax increases (44%). Non-Tea Party Republicans support a combination of program cuts and tax increases over mostly focusing on cuts to major programs by a 63%-26% margin.

About the Survey

The analysis for this report is based on telephone interviews conducted December 3-8, 2013 among a national sample of 2,001 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (1,000 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 1,001 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 523 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see http://people-press.org/methodology/

The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and nativity and region to parameters from the 2011 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status and relative usage of landline and cell phones (for those with both), based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting.

This report is a product of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

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Polling Center: Obama Weighs Heavily on Texas Democrats

esident Barack Obama meets with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling in the Oval Office, Dec. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama meets with National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling in the Oval Office, Dec. 4, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

It takes Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst all of three seconds to mention President Obama in his recent campaign ad. That is faster than the 17 seconds it took him in a previous spot; maybe the lieutenant governor was feeling the heat from one of his rivals in his re-election campaign, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who trumpets his efforts “FIGHTING OBAMA” five seconds into the ad he released in early October.

These are just a few of the many examples one should expect in the Republican primary: The constant invocation of a candidate’s anti-Obama bona fides is a familiar refrain for preaching to the Republican primary choir, and a tried-and-true strategy heading into a mid-term election year that is sure to see lower Democratic turnout than in the last two presidential election years with Obama at the top of the ticket.

Results from five years of University of Texas/Texas Tribune polling of Texans’ approval of Obama suggest that constant criticism of the president is unlikely to trigger much backlash among moderates and even Democrats. GOP candidates have lots of latitude when piling on the president, implications of a public opinion landscape that is bad news for the Texas Democrats who recently have been so flush with optimism.

Obama lost Texas resoundingly in both of his reelection campaigns — to John McCain by 11 percentage points in 2008 and to Mitt Romney by 16 points in 2012 — and it’s not surprising that his approval numbers in Texas have never been stellar. This is a red state, and except for a singular instance in our February 2009 UT/TT poll — right after Obama assumed office —Texans’ disapproval of his job performance has outweighed approval in the remaining 15 polls between then and October 2013.

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Public opinion toward the president favors the Republicans and hurts the Democrats heading into 2014. In the UT/TT Poll, we somewhat uniquely ask respondents whether they only “somewhat” or “strongly” approve or disapprove of the job performance of a particular officeholder. This is in contrast with most pollsters, who just ask a straight approve/disapprove question. The advantage of our format is that we can measure intensity of opinion — and changes in that intensity over time.

Texas Republicans have long held Obama in low regard, with at least 80 percent of GOP identifiers strongly disapproving of the his job performance since May 2010. The Obamas hadn’t quite finished redecorating the White House when Texas GOP candidates up and down the ballot started running against him as much as their opponents. By the time the 2010 general election rolled around, Gov. Rick Perry was doing everything he could to saddle Democratic challenger Bill White with Obama, and even Republican state legislative candidates were using the president in their ads. (For a reminder of what this was like, review this classic spot, which Republican Patrick McGuinness used — unsuccessfully — to gain ground against Democratic incumbent Mark Strama, D-Austin.) Obama’s unpopularity was no surprise at the time and is surely part of the reason so many Republican hopefuls still deride Obama as proof of their conservative credentials.

The repetitive pounding on Obama is partially enabled by the fact that the president doesn’t enjoy symmetrical support among his own partisans. Strong approval among Democrats has slid throughout his presidency — not an unusual occurrence when early hope and promise hit cold, hard political realities (just ask George W. Bush) — with slight upticks during his successful re-election campaign and after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Obama’s strong approval among Democrats now rests at a near low of 36 percent.

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In addition to this lack of intensity among his supporters here in Texas, it’s also the case that in October 2013, nearly a quarter of Democrats indicated either a neutral view of the president (that is, neither approval nor disapproval), or a negative perception — a low-water mark for his presidency. But maybe most importantly when looking ahead to the 2014 races, 42 percent of Texas moderates held a negative opinion of his job performance in October 2013, the largest share holding a negative opinion during his time in office. Democrats and moderates have been consistently kind to the president; more than 50 percent expressed approval of his job performance in 11 of the 16 UT/TT polls since February 2009. If moderates have soured on the president, there is little disincentive for GOP candidates to continue with their primary season Obama bashing during the fall. That includes anchoring an ascendant state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Fort Worth Democrat running for governor, to a sinking president.

Democratic hopes of capturing any statewide office in 2014 rest in no small part on bucking the trend of the president’s party losing ground in midterm elections. The magnitude of that lost ground tends to be foreshadowed by presidential approval numbers. Obama is still the figurehead of his party, a fact that no Republican officeholder, or potential officeholder, is likely to let the electorate forget.

Amid all the speculation about whether Democrats can turn the tide, Obama’s approval numbers are creating a rip current likely to push Democratic hopes farther out to sea — while back on shore, the lifeguards all seem to have disappeared.

Joshua Blank co-authored this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/05/polling-center-obama-weighs-heavily-texas-democrat/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Jim Henson, The Texas Tribune

Jim Henson, The Texas TribuneJim Henson directs the Texas Politics project and teaches in the Department of Government at The University of Texas, where he also received a doctorate. He helped design public interest multimedia for the Benton Foundation in Washington, D.C., in the late 1990s and has written about politics in general-interest and academic publications. He also serves as associate director of the College of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services unit at UT, where he has helped produce several award-winning instructional media projects. In 2008, he and Daron Shaw, a fellow UT government professor, established the first statewide, publicly available internet survey of public opinion in Texas using matched random sampling. He lives in Austin, where he also serves as a member of the City of Austin Ethics Review Commission.

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Texas GOP Gets a Hand From Washington Democrats

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, l, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeal for order as the Senate chamber erupted into chaos just before midnight June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich, The Texas Tribune.

Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, l, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appeal for order as the Senate chamber erupted into chaos just before midnight June 25, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bob Daemmrich, The Texas Tribune.

The conservatives who have been trying to get rid of the Texas Senate’s venerated two-thirds rule — here’s looking at you, Dan Patrick — may have received their best argument yet from U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada.

He is the majority leader in that body and the trigger man behind the death of a procedure that required a supermajority to approve a presidential nominee.

The Texas Senate operates on a supermajority, too. Under ordinary circumstances, it takes approval from two-thirds of the 31 senators to bring a bill to the floor for debate.

On partisan matters, that prevents the Republicans from bringing up legislation unless two of the Senate’s 12 Democrats defy their party.

Patrick, among others, would like to kill or change things. What’s the point of electing a majority if the losers can control the agenda?

The real question is whether it’s a good idea to let everything fly with a simple majority or to require bigger numbers before making new laws.

Each side has some great arguments. Texas Republicans are in charge now, and got there, in part, by drawing new congressional and legislative lines that took away a built-in advantage for Texas Democrats. They accomplished that initially after a Republican senator used the rule to block the Democrats, who were trying to keep their advantage.

It has been a weird year to watch the Republicans and the Democrats in the Washington and Austin bubbles.

In Austin, the Democrats have whined about Republican efforts to run over them, and they have used the tools of the minority — the two-thirds rule, filibusters, anything they could get their hands on — to slow things down.

Sometimes it works, as when Democrats blocked an education bill in May for fear it would legalize public vouchers for private schools. Sometimes it works temporarily, as when Wendy Davis filibustered to kill a bill on a legislative deadline, only to watch the Republicans reset the clock, by booting up another special session, to get what they wanted a few days later.

Scratch this, and you’ll find people arguing both sides. After one or two sessions in the Texas Senate, each officeholder has been either the stomper or the stompee — in the minority on something and the majority on something else. Washington seems to always be in a partisan fight. In Austin, the majority-minority fights shift constantly. Redistricting debates are partisan. Debates over budgets for education break on rural and suburban lines, or on lines between big and little property tax bases. Water wars are all about geography.

So the federal scrap over what got tagged as the “nuclear option” was all about partisans. The state ruckus is more nuanced, and even the strong proponents of change are inclined to move slowly. Drop it to a smaller supermajority like 60 percent instead of killing it, they suggest.

The initial resistance is partisan. After all, Patrick, a Houston Republican who is running for lieutenant governor, is one of the most conservative senators, and Democrats are immediately suspect of anything he supports. A lower supermajority like 60 percent would put Republicans in control, given the current configuration. It would take 19 people to call up a bill. Today, there are 19 Republicans. With Davis, a Democrat from Fort Worth, running for governor, Republican chances of taking her district have improved. With the two-thirds rule in place, Republicans would still need a defector on partisan issues, even with one of their own representing the 10th Senate District.

Democratic senators think they would get squashed if the two-thirds rule disappeared. Republicans, during the 1990s, would have had the same reaction. The traditions in the Senate are strong, and that has kept the rule in place for all these years. Earlier this year, in fact, senators voted unanimously to keep the rule.

But others in the race for lieutenant governor have endorsed the lower number. That makes it an item for discussion when the Texas Senate convenes after next year’s elections. Those Republicans want to exercise the full power of the majority without a pesky minority throwing obstacles in their way. Who wouldn’t?

Just ask Reid and the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2013/12/02/texas-republicans-get-hand-washington-democrats/. Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

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Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune

Ross Ramsey, The Texas TribuneRoss Ramsey is managing editor of the Texas Tribune, and continues as editor of Texas Weekly, the premier newsletter on government and politics in the Lone Star State, a role he's had since September 1998. TW was a print-only journal when he took the reins in 1998; he switched it to a subscription-based, Internet-only journal by the end of 2004 without a significant loss in subscribers. As Texas Weekly's primary writer for 11 years, he turned out roughly two million words in more than 500 editions, added an online library of resources and documents and items of interest to insiders, and a daily news clipping service that links to stories from papers across Texas.

Before joining Texas Weekly in September 1998, Ramsey was Associate Deputy Comptroller for Policy with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, also working as the agency's Director of Communications.

Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin Bureau Chief.

Prior to that, as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, he wrote for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ramsey got his start in journalism in broadcasting, working for almost seven years covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas

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Editorial Cartoon of the Day: October 14, 2013

Editorial Cartoon of the Day: October 14, 2013

Daryl Cagle, msnbc.com

Daryl Cagle is the daily editorial cartoonist for MSNBC.com. With more than 3 million regular, unique users each month, Daryl's editorial cartoon site with Microsoft (www.cagle.com) is the most popular cartoon Web site, of any kind, on the Internet. It is also the most widely used education site in social studies classrooms around the world.

For the past 30 years, Daryl has been one of America's most prolific cartoonists. Raised in California, Daryl went to college at UC Santa Barbara, then moved to New York City where he worked for 10 years with Jim Henson's Muppets, illustrating scores of books, magazines, calendars and all manner of products.

In 2001, Daryl started a new syndicate, Cagle Cartoons, Inc. (www.caglecartoons.com), which distributes the cartoons of 46 editorial cartoonists and columnists to more than 800 newspapers (and Oak Ridge Now) in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Daryl is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. He has been married to his charming wife, Peg, for 22 years and has two lovely kids, Susan and Michael.

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FAQ: What’s At Stake If Congress Repeals The Medical Device Tax

Photo courtesy of Thirteen of Clubs / Flickr

Photo courtesy of Thirteen of Clubs / Flickr

As Republicans and Democrats have battled over reopening the federal government and raising the federal debt ceiling, one idea that keeps coming up is a repeal of the 2010 health law’s tax on medical devices.

While the idea has drawn support from members of both parties, experts say it’s still a heavy lift for the repeal’s proponents. For starters, repealing the tax would create about a $30 billion revenue hole over the next decade.  And supporters of the law fear that making such a change could start a stampede of demands  for similar rollbacks from insurers and health care providers, who are also subject to new taxes and fees to help finance the health law.

With that in mind, here are some frequently asked questions about the tax.

Q: What is the medical device tax?

A: Since the beginning of this year, medical device manufacturers and importers have paid a 2.3 percent tax on the sale of any taxable medical device. The tax applies to devices like artificial hips or pacemakers, not to devices sold over-the-the counter, like eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Q: Why did Congress put the tax into the health law?

A: The law created a package of new taxes and fees to finance the cost of the health law’s subsidies to help purchase coverage on the online marketplaces, or exchanges, and the law’s Medicaid expansion.

In addition to the tax on medical devices, an annual fee for health insurers is expected to raise more than $100 billion over 10 years, while a fee for brand name drugs will bring in another $34 billion. In 2018, the law also will impose a 40 percent excise tax on the portion of most employer-sponsored health coverage (excluding dental and vision) that exceeds $10,200 a year and $27,500 for families. That has been dubbed a “Cadillac” tax because it hits the most generous plans.

kaiser-health-newsQ: Why do proponents of the repeal suggest the medical device manufacturers should get a break over those other industries?  

A: Medical device makers say the tax will cost 43,000 jobs over the next decade and will increase health care costs. In a September letter to lawmakers, device manufacturers said if the tax were not repealed, “it will continue to force affected companies to cut manufacturing operations, research and development, and employment levels to recoup the lost earnings due to the tax.”

The device makers also assert that, unlike other health industry groups that are being taxed through the health law, they will not see increased sales because of the millions of people who will be getting insurance through the overhaul.  “Unlike other industries that may benefit from expanded coverage, the majority of device-intensive medical procedures are performed on patients that are older and already have private insurance or Medicare coverage. Where states have dramatically extended health coverage, such as in Massachusetts where they added 400,000 new covered lives, there is no evidence of a device ‘windfall,’” the group’s letter to Congress stated.

The left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has challenged industry assertions that the tax will lead medical device manufacturers to shift operations overseas and that it will reduce industry innovation. Since the tax applies to imported and as well as domestically produced devices, sales of medical devices in the U.S. will be subject to the tax whether they are produced here or abroad, the center’s analysis notes.  Innovation in the medical device industry has slowed for reasons unrelated to the tax, the center said, noting that the health law may spur medical-device innovation by promoting more cost-effective ways to deliver care.

Q: Who else is pushing for a repeal?

A: Republicans and Democrats in both chambers – in particular those who hail from states with many device manufactures, such as Minnesota, Massachusetts and New York — have sought to repeal the medical device tax.  Most recently, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has pushed for a repeal as part of larger legislation to lift the debt ceiling and reopen the government.

The Republican-controlled House has twice passed legislation to scrap the tax, including a recent measure that would have also delayed implementation of the health law by a year. In the Senate, 33 Democrats and Maine Independent Angus King voted earlier this year to repeal the tax, although the vote was a symbolic one, taken as part of a non-binding budget resolution.

Q. Who opposes the repeal?

The White House in the past has said the president would not support such a measure, although it has not commented about the issue in the current negotiations.  In a statement issued last year about a congressional effort to get rid of the tax, the White House said, “The medical device industry, like others, will benefit from an additional 30 million potential consumers who will gain health coverage under the Affordable Care Act starting in 2014. This excise tax is one of several designed so that industries that gain from the coverage expansion will help offset the cost of that expansion.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said that the Senate will reject any attempts by Republicans to delay implementation of the law or to repeal the medical device tax as part of reopening the government or lifting the federal debt ceiling. But it is unclear if he would still oppose the effort if it was part of a major bipartisan compromise on the health law and budget issues.

Meanwhile, other health care providers are watching closely. In a recent blog post, Chip Kahn, president and chief executive officer of the Federation of American Hospitals, an association of for-profit institutions, wrote that if Congress reopens the heath law “to reconsider the contributions of any one health care sector that benefits from ACA’s coverage expansion, it should simultaneously address the changed circumstances of hospitals and provide similar relief.”

This article was republished from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family FoundationKaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health News

Mary Agnes Carey, Kaiser Health NewsMary Agnes Carey has covered health reform and federal health policy for more than 15 years as an editor at CQ HealthBeat, as Capitol Hill Bureau Chief for Congressional Quarterly and at Dow Jones Newswires. A frequent radio and television commentator, recently featured on the Nightly Business Report, the PBS NewsHour and on NPR affiliates nationwide, Mary Agnes has a thorough understanding of both the policy and politics of health reform. She worked for newspapers in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and has a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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Democrats, Don’t Pop the Champagne Yet

elephant-donkeyThe numbers for the Republican Party are beyond discouraging. The Grand Old Party is hemorrhaging support. In the most recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey, only 24 percent of voters, an all-time low in the poll’s history, now have a favorable view of the Republican Party. The public blames Republicans more than they do President Obama, 53-31 percent, for the shutdown of the federal government. In this week’s Gallup poll, just 28 percent of voters — a 10-point drop since September — favorably viewed the GOP. This is the lowest favorable number that either political party has registered in the 21 years Gallup has been asking the question. Seventy percent in the Washington Post-ABC News poll, one week into the government shutdown, disapprove of congressional Republicans.

Democrats whose own favorable and unfavorable numbers — 39-40 percent in a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll and 43-49 percent in the Gallup — are nothing to write home about, yet Democrats are barely able to conceal their glee. It’s not that voters are smitten with the Democrats; they most definitely are not. It’s just that compared to the historically unpopular GOP, the Typhoid Mary of American politics, Democrats don’t look nearly as bad. It’s a little bit like winning a humility competition against Donald Trump and Kanye West.

But before Democrats start popping their chilled champagne in anticipation of their inevitable comeback in the election of 2014, they should understand that the government shutdown, coupled with the very public game of chicken over the nation’s debt ceiling, has led to even further hemorrhaging of voters’ already shrunken confidence in Washington and the public sector. Democrats historically have believed and argued that the federal government, at its best, can be an instrument of social justice and economic progress. Republicans, by contrast, have mostly been the anti-government party.

This was not always the case. In the middle of the Civil War, in which more Americans died than in all of the nation’s other wars combined, Justin Morrill, a Republican congressman from Vermont, wrote the Land Grant College Act, which the Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed into law. It mandated the federal government to give every state 30,000 acres of land for each U.S. representative that a state had in Congress. The land was used to establish federal funding for every state to found at least one public college accessible to all. The first college built under the Act was MIT, the second Cornell and it has gone on to include 215 public colleges and universities.

In 1862, not even one percent of the U.S. population had set foot on a college campus when, brimming with confidence and optimism, Americans dared to establish a national university system, which would become the envy of the world. Given today’s pervasive pessimism and mistrust in government, it is almost impossible to believe that Americans would dare to accept Justin Morrill’s challenge.

Barely fifty years ago, three out of four Americans trusted their government to do “what is right” either “just about always” or “most of the time.” This year only 22 percent of us express similar levels of trust in the public sector. Optimism is the parent of confidence and trust is confidence’s offspring. We now have an acute national deficit of all three crucial characteristics.

The Republican Party brand is deep in the cellar; make no mistake about it. But bad news for the GOP is not good news for Democrats as long as Americans continue to lose confidence in our capacity to act collectively, through our freely elected government, for the common good. It’s time to put the champagne back on ice.

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Mark Shields, The Creators Syndicate

Mark Shields, The Creators SyndicateThe Wall Street Journal has called Mark Shields “the wittiest political analyst around” and “frequently the most trenchant, fair-minded, and thoughtful.” The Washington Post has called Shields “a walking almanac of American politics.” His insights are first-hand and up-to-the minute, drawn from four decades of knowing, covering and savoring the country and its politics.

A nationally known columnist and commentator, Shields has worked in Washington through the administrations of nine U.S. Presidents. He was an editorial writer for The Washington Post where he began writing his column in 1979. That column is now distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate.

Since 1988, Shields has provided weekly political analysis and commentary on national campaigns for PBS’ award-winning "The PBS NewsHour" where he has matched wits with David Gergen, The Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot and most recently with David Brooks of The New York Times. For 17 years, Shields was moderator and panelist on CNN’s Capital Gang. He now is a regular panelist on Inside Washington, the weekly public affairs show which is seen on both ABC and PBS.

A native of Weymouth, Mass., and a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Shields served as an enlisted man in the United States Marine Corps before coming to Washington where he began working in 1965 for Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire. In 1968, Shields went to work for Robert F. Kennedy in the New York Senator’s presidential campaign and later held leadership positions in three other presidential campaigns. Over 11 years, Shields helped manage campaigns from the courthouse to the White House in some 38 states.

In addition to attending 17 national party conventions and working on or covering the last 11 presidential elections, Shields has taught American politics and the press at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Georgetown University’s Graduate School of Public Policy and he was a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics. "On the Campaign Trail," his book on the 1984 presidential campaign, has been praised as “funny,” “irreverent,” and “for bringing that race to a magnificent light.”

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Editorial Cartoon of the Day: September 30, 2013

Editorial Cartoon of the Day: September 29, 2013

Daryl Cagle, msnbc.com

Daryl Cagle is the daily editorial cartoonist for MSNBC.com. With more than 3 million regular, unique users each month, Daryl's editorial cartoon site with Microsoft (www.cagle.com) is the most popular cartoon Web site, of any kind, on the Internet. It is also the most widely used education site in social studies classrooms around the world.

For the past 30 years, Daryl has been one of America's most prolific cartoonists. Raised in California, Daryl went to college at UC Santa Barbara, then moved to New York City where he worked for 10 years with Jim Henson's Muppets, illustrating scores of books, magazines, calendars and all manner of products.

In 2001, Daryl started a new syndicate, Cagle Cartoons, Inc. (www.caglecartoons.com), which distributes the cartoons of 46 editorial cartoonists and columnists to more than 800 newspapers (and Oak Ridge Now) in the United States, Canada and Latin America. Daryl is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. He has been married to his charming wife, Peg, for 22 years and has two lovely kids, Susan and Michael.

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Editorial Cartoon of the Day: November 5, 2012

Steve Sack, Creators Syndicate

Steve Sack, Creators SyndicateSteve Sack has been the editorial cartoonist since 1981. The St. Paul native was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning in 2004. The Pulitzer Board said Sack stood apart because of his “vivid, distinctive cartoons that used creative metaphors for high-impact results.” Sack is a member of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. He’s won numerous national honors for his work, including a Sigma Delta Chi Award (2003), National Headliner Award (2003), Scripps-National Journalism Award (2004) and the Berryman Award from the National Press Foundation (2006.

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Poll Denial: 50 Shades of Crazy

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

In 2004, Democrats were so out-of-their-minds angry with George W. Bush that we could not believe polls that showed our guy losing. It couldn’t be that Bush was running a better campaign or that we didn’t give two rips about John Kerry. The polls had to be wrong.

Media Matters attacked Gallup and CBS/New York Times polls in September 2004 as “skewed,” and MoveOn.org took out a full-page ad in the Times criticizing Gallup’s “flawed methodology.”

“This is more than a numbers game,” stated MoveOn. “Poll results profoundly affect a campaign’s news coverage as well as the public’s perception of the candidates.”

Now the poop’s on the other boot. Mitt Romney‘s gaffes keep pumping air under Barack Obama’s convention bounce, and Republicans say that the same polls that liberals complained about in 2004 are, you guessed it, “skewed.” A website called UnskewedPolls.com changes turnout projections to remove what it sees as an over-sampling of Democrats. Not surprisingly, if you take out a lot of Democrats, Romney is winning.

So why would Gallup, CBS and The New York Times skew their polls?

“They want you thinking your side’s lost,” said Rush Limbaugh. “They want you thinking it’s over for what you believe. And that makes you stay home and not vote. That’s what they’re hoping.”

You can read all about it in “Fifty Shades of Crazy.”

As a Democratic consultant, I spend a good chunk of my week on conference calls with campaigns from Alaska to Florida, and a lot of what we talk about is poll results. Over the years, I have easily been on hundreds of these conference calls, and if I had a quarter for every time we “skewed” a turnout model to improve poll numbers I wouldn’t have enough money to buy a newspaper.

“Believing that some perceived liberal media bias has made its way into the polling industry, where reputations and paychecks rely on accuracy, shows a stunning disconnect from reality,” said Democratic pollster Bryan Dooley.

Here’s how it really works. Polls control for age, race, gender and geography. If you know that roughly 52% of voters are women, but only 49% of your poll respondents are women, you give more weight to their answers to balance it out. This is called “weighting” a poll, and it’s what you hear conservative critics claim liberals are forcing the media to do with party self-identification in order to deflate Republican turnout.

But party self-identification is not like age, race, gender or geography in that it can change for an individual during a campaign. I’ve seen how party self-identification on a poll rises and falls like a water level as public opinion changes while age, race, gender, and geography remain constant. In 2008, the wave broke my way. In 2010, a red tide wiped out a lot of my congressional clients. This year, every poll I’ve seen has shown an uptick in people identifying themselves as Democrats since the conventions.

This is the giant zit on the Republicans’ bald-faced lie. Saying you should “control” for party self-identification is just as invalid as changing a poll because you think there should be more people supporting Mitt Romney, said Stefan Hankin, a DC-based pollster. UnskewedPolls.com is “weighting something that changes on a week to week basis which you never want to do,” said Hankin. “Look, just because you want something to be true and you can come up with some ridiculous justification does not make it real.”

The news could be even worse for Republicans, says Democratic pollster Zac McCrary. “The polling produced by reputable pollsters is being conducted using the same core methodologies used in 2004 or 2010 when the polling data would have largely foreshadowed Republican success,” said McCrary. “The real concern for Republicans shouldn’t be that polls are overstating Democrats but that polling may be undercounting Democrats because of the difficulty of reaching cell-phone only voters who are disproportionately more Democratic than land-line voters.”

The simple fact is that Democrats don’t need to conspire with the media to make Republicans look bad. Romney does that all by himself when he opens his mouth and Mitt happens.

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Jason Stanford

Jason StanfordJason Stanford is a Democratic political consultant and opposition researcher based in Austin. He served as 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell's campaign manager and chief spokesman. As the head of Stanford Research, he leads opposition research for various candidates and interest groups across the region.

Stanford moved to Texas in 1994 to work as a Deputy Press Secretary for the Ann Richards Committee. Jason and a former colleague founded Stanford Ryan Research & Communications, Inc. in January 1997. The firm became Stanford Research in 1999.

He’s the co-author of “Adios, Mofo: Why Rick Perry Will Make America Miss George W. Bush”, and has a degree in Russian from Lewis & Clark College.

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