Lawmakers Richmond-Bound Again
Debates Over Budget, Medicaid To Follow
HARRISONBURG — The adage that you can never go home again is far from true for state lawmakers: They’ve done it twice already.
But as the General Assembly returns for Richmond next week, this time may finally be for keeps.
The regular session ended March 8 without a budget compromise as the House of Delegates and Senate could not agree on expanding Medicaid as part of the fiscal process. They came back March 24 for a special session, but the pro-expansion, Democrat-led Senate recessed until April 7 — in part, so the Senate Finance Committee could hold a public hearing — leaving the House to pass its own expansion-less budget, and then recess and wait for senators to take action.
“This is a dangerous game they’re playing,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock. “If any of us in the Republican caucus try to take a conservative cause we feel passionate about and infuse it into the budget process ... they would be screaming at the top of their lungs. But when it’s them trying to put this expansion of this broken government program into the mix themselves, they see no problem with that.”
On Thursday, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a press release, “[Expansion] is not about Republican or Democratic politics — it’s about doing the right thing for Virginia families and for our economy.”
Senate finance members held an hours-long public hearing Tuesday in which they mostly heard from those in support of expanding Medicaid. The committee will meet at 10 a.m. Monday to approve a budget for the full chamber to consider the following day.
The panel is expected to pass a spending plan similar to the one it did in regular session, said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, one of three Republicans who sided with Democrats to pass that original budget. The budget included “Marketplace Virginia,” a form of Medicaid expansion where federal dollars would subsidize private insurance premiums for about 250,000 residents.
At the start of special session, McAuliffe proposed outright expansion to 400,000 low-income Virginians in a two-year pilot program, using the same federal dollars that Congress has promised for the first two years that states expand. The House rejected that idea; the Senate never acted on it.
“The governor has said he’ll support [the marketplace],” Hanger said. “What he floated out was an attempt to simplify things and give us something to work with.”
The full Senate and House of Delegates will convene for special session on Tuesday. The Senate will meet at 11 a.m., and the House at 4 p.m.
Once the Senate has passed a budget, senators and delegates would then work on a plan in a conference committee. Gilbert said during regular session, the committee was only $20 million apart on a $96 billion two-year budget.
“This Medicaid issue is now holding us up getting that last one-tenth of 1 percent,” he said.
Also Monday, the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission will meet for the first time this year. Hanger is MIRC’s chairman and expects to receive various reports from McAuliffe’s administration on how reforms have fared so far.
Most Republicans, however, want to see the commission finish its work before entertaining the idea of expansion, and they demand that the budget issue be separate from Medicaid. That group includes MIRC’s vice chairman, Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave.
At an event in Harrisonburg on Friday, he said the House is not trying to shut down state government before the next fiscal year starts July 1.
“We need a budget. We don’t need expansion right now,” Landes said. “The governor and Senate Democrats, and unfortunately the three senators on our side, are the ones shutting down the government.”
Hanger said that’s not the case.
“It’s been the House that’s been going around talking about shutting down the government,” he said. “We still have plenty of time to work this thing out. [Shutting down] is not on the horizon right now. That’s something we don’t do in Virginia.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or email@example.com