RICHMOND | GOP leaders on Tuesday flatly denied ever discussing the possibility of tax relief in exchange for reconsidering their opposition to a Medicaid expansion proposal supported by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who claimed last week that House Republicans had already rebuffed such a proposal a month ago.
News of the purported offer, which broke just before a public hearing on Mr. McAuliffe's recently unveiled budget proposal, appears to have hardened GOP leaders already skeptical about the Democratic governor's ability to translate campaigning into governing.
Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said the idea of coupling tax cuts and Medicaid was never discussed with him, and Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights likewise shook his head at a Tuesday morning news conference.
The Daily Press reported late Monday that Mr. McAuliffe told a group of health care advocates Friday he had offered Republicans tax relief to try to win them over on Medicaid. Disagreement over expanding Medicaid has stalled negotiations over the state's new two-year budget.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, said that to his knowledge there have been no discussions between Senate Republican leadership and the governor on linking the two items.
"'Let's couple Medicaid, the budget and now tax reductions,' " Mr. Norment said. "You know, this is not Monty Hall and 'Let's Make a Deal' here. That may be the way they do it in New York before they migrate down to Northern Virginia."
Mr. McAuliffe, originally from Syracuse, has repeatedly proclaimed that people will die and hospitals will shutter if the legislature does not expand Medicaid rolls for up to 400,000 low-income Virginians — a provision of President Obama's health care overhaul made optional by a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the bulk of the law.
He and Senate Democrats say Virginia is leaving on the table millions of tax dollars its residents are paying to fund the law and that expansion not only will increase access to health care but will also infuse the state economy by creating 30,000 jobs.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said Tuesday that the governor has discussed a range of topics with Republican lawmakers but does not comment on private conversations. He said Mr. McAuliffe will discuss "any idea" that could result in the House passing a budget that includes funds for the expanded coverage.
The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a plan called "Marketplace Virginia" during the regular session that would leverage the federal funds from Obamacare to help provide private insurance plans to needy Virginians.
Republicans reiterated their stated position that any proposal to expand the health care program should be separated completely from the stalled budget talks, and accused the often-loquacious Mr. McAuliffe — a self-described "hustler" in the former Democratic National Committee chairman's biography chronicling his time serving the party — for playing fast and loose with the facts on the issue.
For example, the governor also has said that Virginia taxpayers are going to be footing the bill for the health care of residents in 27 states — a statement Politifact Virginia rated as "mostly false." The fact-checking group run by the Richmond Times-Dispatch also rated Mr. McAuliffe's claim that expanding Medicaid would save the state $1 billion over the next eight years as "half true," since about $400 million of savings would accrue under the health care law whether legislators act or not.
"His arguments for Medicaid expansion are falling apart," Mr. Howell said. "I really believe that the proponents of expansion are trying to sell Medicaid expansion the same way the president sold us Obamacare, by simply promising the world and not really telling us the details."
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