As the General Assembly moves quickly toward its scheduled session end on March 8, it has become increasingly clear that the theme of many of the last several sessions will again repeat itself. The likelihood that lawmakers will finish their work on time is in grave jeopardy.
The chief issue for this session is the proposed expansion of the state’s Medicaid rolls in conjunction with Obamacare. Gov. Terry McAuliffe campaigned on the expansion and is working hard to get it through. The vehicle to achieve this goal is the state’s biennial budget, which under Virginia law was actually proposed by then outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell, and has been amended time and again since it hit the desks of lawmakers early this year.
The Senate passed its budget by a 23-17 vote, including three Republicans, and essentially handed the governor what he wants. Not surprisingly, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates included no such provisions in its budget bill.
And to the shock of no one, each chamber rejected the other’s budget bill. The matter now heads to a conference committee that includes representatives from both bodies.
Earlier this week, the group held its first meeting. The war of words that came after seemed to be the only true action taken and a likely harbinger of things to come. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, “attendees at Wednesday’s budget meeting in the Capitol didn’t even agree on what was said.”
The RT-D noted that House Budget Chairman Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, told reporters the governor was “insisting that with no Medicaid, no expansion of the coverage gap, that he is not going to be supportive of a budget.” According to the RT-D, that characterization of the meeting did not go over well with the state’s top elected official. “The governor bristled when told of the remarks just after the meeting,” the RT-D reported.
And indeed, the war of words continued with recaps of additional skirmishes between Gov. McAuliffe and other House Republicans, namely Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Loudon, and Del. Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell. In all cases, it seems, what was said was interpreted quite differently by Republicans in the House and the governor’s office.
Political theater and rhetoric are nothing new; expect it to get louder and shriller as March 8 nears. Gov. McAuliffe seems undaunted, telling the RT-D that “We will get there. I’m an optimist. I just believe that common sense at the end, we’re all going to come together.”
Optimistic or naïve? The next several days may provide the answer.