By Colin Kennedy
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Republican leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates have proposed a special legislative session to address the debate on Medicaid expansion just three days before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn.
The House and Senate are less than one-tenth of one percent (or $26 million) apart from compromising on a two-year, $96 billion state budget agreement, but GOP leadership reinforced its position Tuesday that Medicaid Expansion does not belong in the budget bill.
Majority Leader Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said the commonwealth’s local governing bodies need budgeting information by Saturday’s deadline, and urged the General Assembly to pass a clean budget and reconvene at a later date to discuss Medicaid Expansion as a separate issue.
“We need a solution at this point, and our solution is to call for a special session,” Cox said. “[House Republicans] have been clear that [the Medicaid Expansion] has no business being a part of this process. Let’s free the hostage and do what’s right for our schools, teachers, college students and first responders.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has publicly refused to sign a budget bill that does not include some form of Medicaid expansion, and the Democratic Senate has yet to budge on its plan to provide up to 400,000 additional Virginians with health coverage under a private provider known as Marketplace Virginia.
On Tuesday, House Democrats fired back at the Republican proposal for a special session, insisting the idea is a delay tactic and that the GOP is at fault for the government impasse.
“It’s very clear that a number of folks on that side of the aisle have just been saying ‘no’ to basically everything,” House Minority leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said. “‘Just say no’ isn’t a policy. It’s a recipe for a government shutdown.”
Toscano refused to address Cox by name on the floor and said Democrats wouldn’t consider a special session without assurance the time would be used to work out the details of Marketplace Virginia or some other form of Medicaid expansion.
“We agree with the gentleman from Colonial Heights,” Toscano said in reference to avoiding a government shutdown. “But we can’t leave $1.7 billion on the table. We can’t discuss a budget without including this money.”
As members of both parties continue to point fingers across the aisle, one Republican legislator suggested the GOP has differences within its own caucus.
Del. Thomas Davis Rust, R-Herndon, said he doesn’t agree with House Republican leadership on all details of potential Medicaid expansion, but Rust did agree the legislature’s top priority should be passing a state budget on time.
“We can’t afford to go home Saturday without a budget,” Rust said. “And I think the fact that the two have been tied together is very detrimental to Virginia.”
Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Manassas, went one step further, suggesting that President Barack Obama is “falsely taking credit” for federal deficit reductions. He said it’s the states like Virginia rejecting Medicaid expansion that are responsible for lowered national deficit projections.
A joint budget conference committee containing six delegates and seven senators has until Saturday to come up with a compromise before the session is extended. If an agreement isn’t finalized by July 1, the state government will shut down until terms can be negotiated.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.