Last week the General Assembly reconvened for a Special Session, passed a state budget and attempted to ensure that Governor McAuliffe would have no possible option of expanding Medicaid without securing full legislative concurrence. Two unexpected events had an enormous, and in my view, an unfortunate impact on the results of the Special Session.
First, Senator Phil Puckett (D) suddenly announced his resignation effective June 9th. His resignation restored the Republican majority (from 20(D) – 20(R) to 19(D) – 20(R)) in the State Senate and gave Republicans control of both houses of the General Assembly. The timing of Senator Puckett’s action was appalling and the appearance it presents to the citizens of the Commonwealth further erodes the confidence Virginians have in the integrity of their elected representatives. Sen Puckett stated that he was stepping down in order to enable his daughter to be confirmed as a judge. Republicans had withheld the 21st Senate vote needed due to the alleged Senate custom of not appointing family members to the bench. While a seeming a reasonable custom, it is not actually a practice cast in stone. Two family members of sitting Delegates have been appointed to judgeships by the General Assembly since the 1990’s. It was also rumored that Senator Puckett was offered a position with the State Tobacco Commission. The Commission had scheduled an upcoming meeting with one agenda item: hiring of a deputy director. That meeting was cancelled and Senator Puckett announced he would not take a job with the Commission shortly after this story became public knowledge.
The second event that had a significant impact on the outcome of the special session was the primary defeat of Congressman Eric Cantor by a Tea Party candidate. The political shockwave that Cantor’s loss created gave the Republican members of the House and Senate the leverage they needed to successfully bring a halt to discussions between three Republican Senators who had been working on a Medicaid expansion compromise with the Governor and Democratic Caucus. Those three Senators quickly abandoned any effort at compromise. Not only did compromise evaporate, but a new amendment preventing the Governor from administratively expanding Medicaid was voted into the budget. This amendment also renders the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC) powerless to reform and expand Medicaid as had been originally voted upon by the General Assembly in last year’s budget. Going forward, only the majority of the General Assembly has the power to approve any Medicaid expansion initiative.
The budget is now before the Governor and he has three options: sign, veto, or amend it with his power of line-item veto. The General Assembly must then reconvene and would need a two-thirds vote to override any veto.
The legislature’s budget currently denies Virginia the ability to accept $2 billion/year of federal funds (Yes, Virginia, that would be our own tax dollars returning to the Commonwealth). This means that Virginians will not see any of the 30,000 jobs that Medicaid expansion would create and that we will have to live with the $180 million of cruel cuts to public education, public safety and economic development that will now be required. Meanwhile, the 400,000 uninsured, working Virginians will still need medical care and will continue to be forced to seek out expensive emergency room care at our underfunded hospitals and university’s ‘free’ clinics.
This state of affairs is certainly what the Republican majority in the Legislature wanted to accomplish. This ideological win was so important that they were willing to risk sullying the Republican “brand” with what appears to be unseemly political scheming.
Stay tuned, the end of the fiscal year is fast-approaching and our budget drama is not yet over. We will return to session Monday to vote on a budget.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected]