In apparent frustration over their inability to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, Virginia Democrats have ratcheted up their threatening rhetoric, reviving Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s promise to shut down Virginia government unless Republicans accede to irresponsible spending increases.
In a Facebook post earlier this afternoon, Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania) said that Democrat leader Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) took Democrat rhetoric up a notch on how far they are willing to go to force expansion of Medicaid.
As you may recall, then-candidate Terry McAuliffe made similarly reckless threats during the campaign, before backing off of them amid the outcry that he would hold the state hostage to his pet project:
I will not sign a budget in Virginia unless it includes the Medicaid expansion,’ McAuliffe said this summer in an interview with AARP. He made a similar comment at a dinner with Loudoun County Democrats, the Loudoun Times reported in June.
The latest uptick in rhetoric comes as lawmakers consider competing versions of the biennial Virginia budget. The Senate version has provisions expanding Medicaid (though with some GOP-authored “sheep’s clothing” thrown on it), while the House version does not. As the Washington Post reports,
“Democrats have decided to play a high-stakes game of chicken for the sake of expanding Obamacare in Virginia,” House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said in a speech on the House floor Monday. “They have decided to hold hostage millions of dollars in funding for schools, teachers, police officers and hospitals in exchange for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”
The Virginia General Assembly session is currently set to close on March 8. However, if the House and Senate remain at an impasse on the budget, the session could be extended. If no budget is in place by July 1, state government agencies will run out of money and be forced to shut down. House Republican leaders who have spoken to The Bull Elephant acknowledge that they may be in session all the way through June.
Unlike with the federal government shutdown games, though, here in Virginia it is the Democrats who won’t be able to escape the blame, particularly given the Governor’s repeated campaign pledges to drive the Commonwealth off a cliff rather than delay his pet project. Plus, let’s be real…Speaker Howell commands a lot more respect and authority among the press and the political class in Virginia than does Sen. Ted Cruz, et al, among the Washington chattering class, especially when Howell is viewed alongside the policy novice in the executive mansion.
As we’ve detailed previously, this game of chicken between Republicans and Democrats has its limits, though. At some point, Governor McAuliffe may simply decide he’s had enough dickering and delay on Medicaid expansion, at which time Democrats may simply pass the Republican version of the budget, leaving the executive branch to expand Medicaid after the session ends, without legislative interference. McAuliffe could conceivably act on the same authority claimed by Governor McDonnell last year, after the 2013 budget established a parallel (not exclusive) authority for Medicaid expansion via the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (see Gov. McDonnell’s letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, where he says ““the decision currently rests with me on whether or not to expand“).
Republican lawmakers have quietly acknowledged to The Bull Elephant that expansion in this fashion is a possibility, meaning that even if legislators are able to avoid a shutdown, they may yet find themselves in a constitutional showdown with the executive, one that has an uncertain outcome at best.