- Associated Press - Thursday, May 29, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A proposed small procedural change to a legislative commission may be the starting point of a compromise that ends a months-long impasse over the Virginia state budget.

Republican state Sen. Emmett Hanger of Augusta proposed Thursday changing how the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission votes on whether to expand Medicaid eligibility.

Under current law, no expansion can take place unless the commission votes for it. Hanger is proposing that eligibility expand automatically unless actively voted against by the commission.

The debate over the publicly funded health insurance program for the poor has delayed passage of the state’s roughly $96 billion biennial budget and threatened a possible state government shutdown.

Hanger said in a statement that he hopes his proposal will allow lawmakers to “move quickly to final passage of a budget and preserve Virginia’s record of fiscal responsibility.”

Most Republicans oppose expanding Medicaid eligibility, which is a key part of the President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. GOP lawmakers say the federal government’s promises to pay for the bulk of the expansion can’t be trusted.

Most Democrats and three Republican senators, including Hanger, support increasing eligibility to about 400,000 low-income residents, saying the state can’t afford to forgo a huge infusion of federal funds.

There’s been virtually no movement on either side since the General Assembly adjourned from its regular session in March.

But both House Republican leaders and Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Thursday they were encouraged by Hanger’s proposal and said it merits further study - marking the first small area of agreement between the two sides since the impasse began.

Adding urgency for a compromise is the looming June 30 end to Virginia’s fiscal year. The commonwealth has never started a new fiscal year without a budget in place, and Republicans and McAuliffe have been at odds over what power the governor would have to spend state funds absent a budget.

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