AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A new Texas budget inched toward passage late Thursday in the House, where Republicans and Democrats during a marathon debate brokered deals to defuse volatile ideological battles and stifled tea party newcomers still craving influence.
Yet, the discussion over a two-year, $93.5 billion state spending plan was not without clashes. As the debate stretched into an eighth hour and toward nightfall, tensions heightened over an anti-school voucher amendment that won easy passage -- landing a potential knockout punch to a priority item of social conservatives in the Legislature.
A final up-or-down vote on the budget by the Republican-controlled House was not expected until midnight or later. Nearly 270 amendments were filed for debate.
Majority GOP leaders spoke with satisfaction while detailing the 2014-15 spending proposal that throws additional dollars at public schools and mental health. Even financially shaky state parks are spared from closure, symbolic of the Legislature's spending power because of a roaring Texas economy.
"We've been able to restore significant portions of last session's cuts," said state Republican Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the House's chief budget-writer. "We've not done so recklessly, and we have not replaced every dollar removed from last session."
The House budget bill boosts state spending by 7 percent and is among the most significant votes in a 140-day session that has enjoyed relatively feel-good bipartisanship -- at least compared to the acrimony in 2011, when the Republican-controlled Legislature cut the budget to the bone.
An amendment to derail school vouchers interrupted the harmony, though it passed 103-43.
Unlike in the Senate, many House members are uneasy about vouchers, arguing that giving parents state funds to let parents pull their children out of underperforming public schools and enroll them in private campuses siphons money from cash-strapped school districts.
Republican state Rep. Debbie Riddle of Tomball blasted the Democrat behind the proposal, Rep. Abel Herrero of Robstown, for denying parents the choice she said his own family could afford.
"You have the wealth to make that choice, yet you want to keep poor families from making it," Riddle said.
Backroom deals doused other potential fireworks. A bipartisan pact led to the withdrawal of amendments related to women's health and abortion, averting the rehash of another intense political feud in 2011 when the Legislature cut state funding to Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Bryan Hughes, among the leading tea party members in the House, said both sides backed down since funding for women's health funding is increased and taxpayer dollars are already off-limits to health providers linked to abortion services.
"We were able to get that done without having some divisive debates on the floor," Hughes said.
The budget plan doesn't restore about $15 billion lawmakers slashed in 2011 -- which included about $5.4 billion cut from public schools. The House budget restores about $2.5 billion to school districts, $1 billion more than the budget passed by the Senate last month.
Sneaking more money into schools emerged early Thursday as one of the Democrats' major concerns.
"It's a huge chunk of money to restore what was cut," Democratic state. Rep. Donna Howard said of the school spending. "Not what we wanted to be, obviously, but it did restore."
Republican state. Rep. John Otto, who led the school finance negotiations in the House, said the budget covers enrollment growth for an estimated 85,000 new pupils in 2014-15 and bolsters per-pupil spending for many school districts.
But the extra dollars won't be evenly spread: Otto said that while some property-poor districts would receive $100 to $200 more per student, wealthier ones would get an additional $6 to $8.
Regarding health care, the House joined the Senate in adopting an outline of how they would be willing to expand Medicaid. Texas Republicans, including Gov. Rick Perry, have rejected expanding the health program for the poor unless the federal government allows Texas to develop its own rules and regulations.
Lawmakers said they would approve adding more than 1 million people to the program -- if those people have to share some of the cost.
Even though nearly every state agency is in line for additional funding under the House budget, there are some exceptions. Neither of Perry's two signature economic development programs, the Emerging Technology Fund and the deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund, would receive new taxpayer dollars for private businesses.
Replenishing the scandal-wracked Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is also on hold until sweeping reforms pass both chambers. The $3 billion cancer-fighting agency, known as CPRIT, is under criminal investigation and a spending freeze following the revelation of grants that bypassed the reviewed process.
About $594 million is on the table for CPRIT if reforms are passed. The most significant reform bill cleared the Senate this week.