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EDITORIAL: McAuliffe losing the fight for Medicaid expansion

New poll of Virginians isn’t good news for the governor

- - Monday, April 28, 2014

As the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia last fall, Terry McAuliffe was asked about the ethics of using Obamacare as a negotiating tactic during the federal budget impasse at the time. "These things should never be used as bargaining chips for our budget," he said, applying a pious emphasis. Now that he's the man in charge, Gov. McAuliffe is using the Virginia state budget as a bargaining chip to force the Republican-controlled House of Delegates to agree to a costly and unwise expansion of the state's Medicaid rolls under Obamacare.

His scheme appears to be sputtering to a halt. A new Christopher Newport University poll suggests Mr. McAuliffe and the Democratic-controlled state Senate are on the wrong side of the Medicaid-expansion issue. The survey, released Thursday, finds that 53 percent of Virginia voters oppose expanding Medicaid to 400,000 additional low-income Virginians, at an estimated cost of $2 billion. Just 42 percent of respondents favor expanding Medicaid. The poll's findings are a surprising reversal from just two months earlier, when the same surveyors found that 56 percent backed expansion.

Even liberals in Northern Virginia realize what a dumb idea it is, to take a bloated program and put it on steroids, with support running just 49 percent to 47 percent. "Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia," says Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport's Wason Center for Public Policy. "This is mostly because they are not convincing independents that it will work."

Only 35 percent of independents and 11 percent of Republicans say they support the governor's scheme, which means Mr. McAuliffe will have a hard time finding close to 20 Republicans in the House of Delegates he'll need to break ranks to support his scheme.

If the stalemate over the $96 billion, two-year state spending blueprint isn't resolved by the July 1 start of the new fiscal year, Virginia faces a state government shutdown. That would set off the inevitable parade of camera-ready tragedies, including police and teachers not getting paid and state employees laid off, among other things. If that happens, 78 percent say, Mr. McAuliffe would share "some or a lot" of the blame.

Americans for Tax Reform notes that the federal Medicaid program has grown over the past 30 years by roughly 700 percent in adjusted-for-inflation dollars. Medicaid spending now accounts for nearly one-fourth of the Virginia state budget. The cost per recipient has increased by approximately 6 percent per year to a current $6,500 per enrollee, crowding out spending on education, transportation, public safety and other priorities.

To say that such growth in Medicaid is unsustainable is an understatement, yet Mr. McAuliffe and his Democratic allies seek to further expand the program. That is irresponsible. In this staring contest, Republicans in the House of Delegates must man up and not be the first to blink.