- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2014

During the Virginia governor’s race last year, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe wrote a letter to the state’s congressional delegates urging them to “stop using the threat of a government shutdown as a bargaining chip in other negotiations, including over the health care law.”

At the same time, he repeatedly told lawmakers on the campaign trail not to bother sending him a budget if it didn’t include language to expand Medicaid for up to 400,000 low-income Virginians — a part of President Obama’s overhaul of the health care system. A 60-day legislative session passed with no deal on either a two-year budget or expansion of Medicaid.

As governor, Mr. McAuliffe appears as bullish as ever heading into a special session that opens Monday, but Republicans are just as determined to decouple the items and deal with Medicaid in a separate special session.

“I promise you in this room, we will get this done this year,” Mr. McAuliffe told health care officials in Alexandria last week, according to a video posted by the blog Blue Virginia. “You have my word on it. I do not make promises lightly. If I put my word to it, you’re going to get it.”

But now, the threat of a government shutdown July 1 does loom, and Republican leaders have been eager to share exhortations from local governments and business groups, including those that want Medicaid expanded, to deal with the issues separately.

Mr. McAuliffe has scheduled a special session budget briefing for 9 a.m. Monday, when he is expected to unveil his budget proposals to counter House Republicans, who introduced their budget blueprint Friday.

Republicans point out that dozens of school boards, city councils, and local bodies have lobbied lawmakers in Richmond to pass a budget now to give localities more certainty in crafting their spending plans, many of which rely significantly on money from the state government.

The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a budget during the regular session that includes funding for Marketplace Virginia, a private option that would leverage funds from the federal government to provide health care for up to 250,000 low-income Virginians.

Mr. McAuliffe and Senate Democrats say it’s common sense for Virginia to accept the federal money and that the state loses $5 million a day by choosing not to. Under the law, the federal government covers the full cost of expanded coverage for three years, a subsidy that eventually winds down to 90 percent.

But House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, penned an op-ed in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star over the weekend saying that a federal government with $17 trillion in debt cannot reliably make good on the promise and that the program must undergo reforms before expansion is considered.

“If the governor would remove the issue of Medicaid expansion, we could finish Virginia’s budget in short order,” Mr. Howell wrote. “That is why I, along with my colleagues in the House of Delegates, am offering to compromise. The responsible path forward is to pass a clean budget, then continue the debate over Medicaid expansion in a separate special session.”

The public relations war in the two weeks since the legislature adjourned has been fierce.

House Republicans have provided daily updates on “Terry McAuliffe’s budget impasse,” reminding the public of statements he made on the campaign trail about Medicaid and the budget.

Senate Democrats say it is the Republicans who refuse to compromise. They recently touted support from business groups, health care specialists and Boyd Marcus, a longtime GOP operative who endorsed Mr. McAuliffe last year after reportedly seeking a job with the campaign of Republican Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II.

The Democratic Party of Virginia also says House Republicans have been “missing in action” during the past few weeks. The party recently used altered images of Mr. Howell and House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights along with a makeshift logo from a children’s game show to highlight their apparent absence from public view, as Mr. McAuliffe hopscotched across the state to various hospitals to talk up the benefits of Medicaid expansion to friendly audiences.

“Instead of hearing from their constituents, they are hiding behind closed doors and crafting what can only be another plan to hijack the budget by once again refusing to expand access to quality affordable health care for 400,000 working Virginians,” said party spokeswoman Ashley Bauman.

A day earlier, Mr. Howell spoke at an event hosted by the Virginia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.

The state Chamber of Commerce supports Medicaid expansion and has called for the issue to be separated from the budget.

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