- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - An anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform is applauding House Speaker William J. Howell for his opposition to Medicaid expansion, praise that comes a year after the group advocated for new leadership in the House of Delegates.

“We applaud your leadership and commitment to stop Medicaid expansion and look forward to working with you and the legislature going forward,” Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in a letter sent last Wednesday.

Last year the group criticized Howell for supporting then-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation spending plan, which increased the state sales tax rate.

The group targeted the re-election campaign of former Del. Joe May, former head of the House’s transportation committee, and said his defeat was because of May’s “vote for Speaker Bill Howell’s misguided $6 billion tax hike.”

“With (May’s) defeat, it should be clear that it is time for new leadership in the Virginia House of Delegates,” Norquist said in a statement last June.

Howell, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

Expanding Medicaid is a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, one that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was optional. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe had made expanding Medicaid eligibility to about 400,000 low-income Virginia residents his top legislative priority. House Republicans oppose expansion, saying the state can’t afford its long-term costs.

The current impasse over Medicaid expansion could lead to a state government shutdown if no budget is passed by July 1.

Paul Blair, Americans for Tax Reform’s state affairs manager, said Howell deserves credit for opposing Democratic-led efforts to include Medicaid expansion in the state’s budget.

“While last year was a bad year for taxpayers, the Republican-led House of Delegates clearly understands that Obamacare has been a disaster and taxpayers cannot afford to expand Medicaid, a program with unchecked growth that provides sub-par quality of care,” Blair said.

Americans for Tax Reform is a nonprofit that does not have to reveal its donors. Several other outside groups, including the liberal Moveon.org and the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, have also been active advocating for or against expanding Medicaid in Virginia.

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