I’ve seen the following quote from House Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts, in this Statesman story about some queasiness among lower chamber Republicans about the severe budget cuts, several times this past week, and I feel it needs a bit of deconstruction.
There are limits, in fact, to how much can be added and still get the 76 votes needed to pass the House budget.
“For a lot of members of the House, this is as far as we can go,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said last week. “They feel like they were elected to make cuts and this accurately reflects what their constituents want.”
I don’t know how the campaigns actually went in most House districts. There wasn’t a competitive race in mine, so the vast majority of what I saw that an average voter would have seen came from the Governor’s race, where the Republican message was basically “Texas rulz, Obama droolz”. Rick Perry certainly didn’t campaign on the need to slash the budget in Texas. Sure, he talked at length about out of control spending, but that was always clearly in the context of talking about Washington and Obama and the Democratic Congress. I realize I’m Monday morning quarterbacking to an extent here, but does anyone disagree with the claim that Rick Perry has basically been running a nonstop anti-Washington campaign for about two years now? Does anyone disagree that the 2010 election was all about the anti-Obama vote coming out in force, abetted by a weak economy and a heaping measure of anti-immigrant sentiment? I mean, the two candidates in Harris County that won races they weren’t generally expected to win, Sarah Davis and Jack Morman, both basically ran anti-Obamacare campaigns despite the fact that neither one was seeking an office that had anything to do with “Obamacare”. To say that the election was about anything else strikes me as being a big distortion of what really happened.
Now again, I don’t know how things looked on the ground elsewhere in the state. Maybe some of these Republican freshmen really did spend their summer and fall last year talking about the need to cut billions of dollars from the state budget, from public education and Medicaid and everywhere else. It’s also possible – likely, in fact – that the “out of control spending” message about Washington was also taken implicitly by voters to be a critique of Austin. That gets into some ticklish territory for Texas Republicans, since they’ve been in full control of state government since 2003, so if spending here was “out of control”, well, whose fault was that? I’m equally sure that Democrats, who seldom miss a chance to run away from themselves, would have not done a very good job pointing out that distinction and contradiction. That will have to be the task for next year, when the electorate and the climate ought to be considerably different. In the meantime, however inaccurate a characterization of the 2010 election Pitts’ statement may be, I’m not at all unhappy for the Republicans – and the Democrats – to run with it. Y’all go right ahead and tell the voters how you gutted public education and helped close a bunch of nursing homes just like we asked you to do. We’ll be glad to have that conversation.