Pro-choice protestors outside the University of Texas. (File Photo) Photograph: Getty Images
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What the hell actually happened in Texas last night?

Chaos and confusion in the Capitol.

If you don't know what's happening in Austin right now, then chances are you haven't opened Twitter in the last few hours. The internet practically exploded last night, as protesters in the public gallery of the Texas State Senate unleashed a pandemonium of screaming in support of the heroic Wendy Davis, a state senator who was on her feet speaking for ten hours. Davis had been working to filibuster a particularly horrific anti-abortion bill which would limit access to abortion-causing pills and reduce the number of clinics in the state effectively to just five.

After a chaotic few hours of waiting, it now looks certain that the bill, known as SB5, has indeed been killed – and by a matter of moments. The official record of the vote is that it took place at 12:03 – three minutes past the time when the special session closed. Under Texas law, that means it didn't pass.

If this sounds like a bit of a procedural drama, it was. But it was an extremely dramatic one, especially for the last fifteen minutes, and if there's anything the internet loves, it's a good melodrama – just look at the tweets-per-minute data of the event.

Republicans in the chamber at first claimed victory, and the Associated Press reported that the vote had passed. But the internet raised a hue and cry: when the result was first posted, the date-stamp was today's; it was quickly changed, but not fast enough that the internet missed it. The two screencaps are here.

The senators were recalled to the chamber for an emergency caucus, and the screen-caps above were shown in the  chamber. Moments ago, after an agonisingly long discussion, the Lt. Governor of Texas, David Dewhurst, announced that the vote had been out of time and invalid – the filibuster was successful. Few people have seen politics this electrifying in living memory. More than 170 thousand people were watching the live-stream of the chamber by midnight, despite the fact that it was the middle of the night on the east coast.

This is the moment when, with fifteen minutes to go before midnight, Davis' colleague, senator Leticia Van De Putte, struggling to be heard, asked what a female senator had to do to be heard over her male colleagues; causing the cheering to begin from the public gallery. The cheering continued, drowning out the attempts of the chamber to vote, until after midnight.

A filibuster is famous for being at the heart of some of the most exciting moments of US political history. It is when a politician attempts to run out the clock on a debate, by speaking for a prolonged amount of time in order to prevent a vote on a particular topic. In Washington today, however, moments these are rare. Just the threat of a filibuster – like that of a Presidential veto – is usually enough to upset the course of a bill these days, though earlier this year libertarian Senator Rand Paul filibustered for thirteen hours to protest about the President's drone policies.

So what happens next? Once the confusion calms down – this was the scene inside the Senate chamber just a few moments before the emergency session announced that the bill had not passed – Republicans may try to mount a legal challenge. Some supporters of SB5 are already saying that they will try to re-introduce the bill at the next special senate. The democratic body of Texas was overruled last night not by debate or campaigning, or even, in the end, by the heroic Senator Davis, but by a grass-roots of people in the public gallery. It was not politics by the books; it was politics at its most raw, and the Republicans will respond.

The exciting part is probably over. But it has been an unforgettable night.

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Photo: Getty
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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.