- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 25, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia GOP-controlled House of Delegates passed a budget Tuesday and then mocked their Senate colleagues for having left town without passing a budget of their own.

After the House voted along party lines to pass a roughly $96 billion two-year budget late Tuesday, an ebullient group of Republican delegates walked their version of the budget over to present to an empty and darkened Senate chamber.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox posted a sign reading “Gone Home” on the Senate’s door, and the House’s version of the budget was left on the floor. Several Republican lawmakers took turns posing for pictures by the sign.

The move was the latest in an ongoing and long-running public relations tussle between Republican and Democratic lawmakers over whether Virginia should undergo a large-scale expansion of its Medicaid program.

The General Assembly adjourned earlier this month without passing a budget because of the impasse on Medicaid, and there has been little sign the two sides are anywhere closer to an agreement than they were several months ago.

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Democrat-controlled Senate want to accept federal Medicaid funds in exchange for increasing the number low-income residents who would qualify for publicly assisted health insurance. Medicaid expansion is a key part of the Affordable Care Act, and the federal government has pledged to cover the full cost of expansion for the next three years. About half the states have opted to expand so far.

McAuliffe kicked off a special legislative session Monday by introducing a proposed budget that would limit Medicaid expansion to a two-year pilot program and tie the projected savings from Medicaid expansion, mostly from reduced state costs for indigent care, to a 2 percent pay raise for state employees, teachers and faculty.

The House immediately rejected McAuliffe’s proposal in favor of a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion, while the Senate put off any budget action. The full Senate isn’t scheduled to return to Richmond until April 7.

The GOP-controlled House opposes expanding the state’s Medicaid program, which they say is growing at an unsustainable rate. And House Republicans have been insistent that Medicaid expansion be debated separate from the state’s budget, a position rejected by McAuliffe and the Senate.

At a news conference earlier Tuesday, House Speaker William J. Howell criticized the Senate for not moving faster to pass its version of a budget so that negotiations between the two chambers can begin.

“The actions of the Democrats in the Senate yesterday clearly shows that they are not serious about getting a budget done,” Howell said. “This is the most important thing we do as legislators.”

State government could shut down if a budget is not passed by July 1.

But Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin issued a statement saying Republicans were to blame for gridlock because they were refusing to negotiate on Medicaid expansion.

“Republicans keep talking about process, but they aren’t addressing the actual problem,” McEachin said.

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