- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

RICHMOND — Just 4 percent of Virginia voters think the top priority of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the General Assembly should be Medicaid — an issue that has paralyzed the budget process and forced a special session of the Legislature amid speculation about an unprecedented state government shutdown.

A survey released Wednesday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute shows Medicaid trails unemployment, education and the economy as issues on which respondents think the Democratic governor and lawmakers should primarily be focused.

Mr. McAuliffe, who called lawmakers back to Richmond after they were unable to resolve the issue during their 60-day legislative session, on Wednesday blamed the ongoing standoff on leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.

Mr. McAuliffe said the House, which rejected his new two-year budget blueprint that included a pilot Medicaid expansion program, “didn’t even look” at his proposal.

“This is integral to the budget,” Mr. McAuliffe said on the WTOP Radio “Ask the Governor” program, appealing to House Republican leaders. “Why don’t you sit with me and the Republicans and the Democrats in the state Senate in a room and hammer this thing out?”

The governor said he’s open to adding to the budget — “whatever we need to do to move this thing forward” — but called a Republican push to separate Medicaid expansion from the budget process in order to finalize a spending plan “just another one of their gimmicks.”

If the Legislature does not pass a two-year budget by July 1, lawmakers run the risk of a state government shutdown.

But neither side appears willing to budge, with Republicans skeptical that expanding the federal health care benefit will ever result in savings to the state.

Mr. McAuliffe’s campaign platform to grow jobs and expand the Virginia economy was based heavily on expanding Medicaid as part of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act for up to 400,000 poor, elderly and disabled Virginians. He has thus far been unable to cajole House Republicans into going along with the plan.

The House advanced its own two-year, $96 billion spending plan Tuesday evening that does not include Medicaid expansion and delivered the bill to an empty Senate chamber. The Senate recessed Monday and the full body is not scheduled to formally reconvene until April 7.

But if there is a bright spot for the Democratic governor, it could be that the poll released Wednesday also shows that nearly two months into his term he is faring better with voters than is the General Assembly.

Mr. McAuliffe holds a 44 percent approval rating, according to the survey of 1,288 voters, which was conducted from March 19-24.

The public had a decidedly less favorable view of the General Assembly. Thirty-seven percent approve of the state legislature and 45 percent disapprove.

While most governors would envy Mr. McAuliffe’s 29 percent disapproval rating, a high number of voters appear to be reserving judgement on Mr. McAuliffe. The poll said 27 percent of respondents are undecided on whether they approve of his job performance thus far.

Pluralities of voters say he’s honest and trustworthy and that he cares about their needs and problems, and a majority says he has strong leadership qualities.

The poll, which had a margin of error of 2.7 percentage points, also showed that 57 percent of those surveyed say they’re optimistic about the next four years with Mr. McAuliffe serving as the state’s chief executive.

Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, called Mr. McAuliffe’s initial reviews “good, but not great.”

“Virginians are optimistic about the future under their new governor, and a majority is satisfied with the way things are going in their state, better than the voter outlook in some other parts of the country,” he said.

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