- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2014

Republicans on Monday acted quickly on their newly secured majority in the Virginia Senate, announcing plans to call lawmakers into session to resolve a protracted dispute over Medicaid expansion and the state’s budget after the sudden resignation of a crucial Democrat.

The development delivers a setback to Gov. Terry McAuliffe and his plan to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents as part of the Affordable Care Act. The House of Delegates opposed expansion while the Senate, which was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, supported it. That left the chambers at an impasse, with the threat of a government shutdown looming on July 1 if lawmakers could not resolve the issue to pass the state’s two-year, $96 billion budget.

But the resignation Monday of state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, Tazewell Democrat, gave Republicans a 20-19 edge in the Senate, where Democrats had exercised effective control because of the tiebreaking vote of the Democratic lieutenant governor.

Word of a possible budget resolution quickly followed amid concerns that continued uncertainty around the issue could affect the state’s financial standing.

Senate Republicans, along with President Pro Tem Charles J. Colgan, Prince William Democrat, sent a letter Monday to the Senate clerk to call lawmakers back to Richmond at 5 p.m. Thursday. The House later announced plans to reconvene.

“The ultimate goal is to restart the budget process,” a Republican aide said.

Democrats, meanwhile, were left with few options other than caterwauling about reports that Mr. Puckett stepped down in order to receive a position on the Tobacco Indemnification and Revitalization Commission.

In a written statement Monday, Mr. Puckett dismissed reports that he was resigning to take the position, saying he was never formally offered a spot on the panel.

Mr. McAuliffe called the situation “unacceptable.”

“I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially in Southwest Virginia,” he said in a statement Sunday.

Republicans had urged Mr. McAuliffe to pass a budget and consider Medicaid expansion afterward. But the Democratic governor resisted and was reportedly exploring the limits of his authority to implement Medicaid expansion unilaterally and to keep the government open even without a spending plan.

The office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat, recently retained A.E. Dick Howard, who helped write the modern state constitution, as a consultant to provide advice if July 1 approached with no budget.

Those preparations now appear to be academic.

By late Monday, Mr. Puckett’s fellow Democrats were directing their anger toward unspecified “Virginia Republicans.”

“Instead of working on ways to compromise on a budget, they have resorted to brokering shady deals behind the backs of their fellow legislators and constituents,” said Robert Dempsey, executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia.

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