Recently many Virginians have been left to wonder what takes place in Richmond. They ask: “What happened to the Virginia Way?” Sadly, Washington style politics have infiltrated Virginia. With a single vote in the Senate, encouraged by an executive branch with its own agenda, the General Assembly is at an impasse.
The Virginia Way adheres to the proper process of government; unfortunately, this year has been less than exemplary. Disregarding the Virginia Way, Senate Democrats created gridlock in the name of political leverage. The current budget impasse is a broken compromise — a failure to adhere to our process and an attempt to institute dramatic policy change by leveraging the safety and welfare of the Commonwealth. Such drastic policy shifts should receive our full attention and thorough evaluation rather than be made ransom for the operation of the Commonwealth.
Senate Democrats have done everything in their power to stop the passage of the Commonwealth’s budget. They want Medicaid expansion regardless of the costs. This attitude has been emphasized by floor speeches of delegates like Jennifer McClellan who remarked, “I don’t care what it costs.”
Such disregard for policy has only reinforced Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s misleading talking points. Claims of $1.2 billion in returned tax revenue isn’t entirely factual. Since this policy has almost entirely avoided the traditional process of the General Assembly, it is nearly impossible to estimate the costs of administration. This is a concern that has been made more troublesome due to the Democrats’ failure to introduce or discuss a unified proposal for expansion.
Republican Sen. Watkins originally proposed Marketplace Virginia, a private exchange iteration of expansion. Defeated in the Democrat controlled Senate Finance Committee, language from Watkins bill was injected into the Senate budget. This violated the General Assembly’s prior compromise that resulted in the creation of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission or MIRC.
Through the MIRC, Medicaid was to be taken out of the budget and reformed prior to expansion. Sidestepping the MIRC and traditional vetting processes for legislation, Senate Democrats took the Commonwealth’s budget hostage to advance controversial politics. Admittedly, majority leader Dick Saslaw acknowledged that Medicaid’s inclusion in the budget was simply leverage for the policy.
Leveraging colleagues to vote for a drastic policy change without discussing its merits is irresponsible. The proposed expansion has no indication of its actual cost and little detail as to how it would be administered. In fact, a great deal of this cost would fall on our localities, forcing them to again raise taxes to provide for critical functions and services.
This impasse has forced the General Assembly to adjourn regular session without a budget. We now reconvene for a special session to complete our work. Without Medicaid expansion, the House and Senate budgets differ by $26 million. This is less than one-tenth of one percent and would typically be an encouraging indicator; however, the governor has submitted an additional budget proposal that includes 104 new amendments and the Medicaid contingent of ObamaCare.
McAuliffe has suggested that the Commonwealth treat expansion as a pilot program. However, a pilot program is implemented in a limited fashion — not statewide — so its failures or successes can be examined. Expanding Medicaid statewide and using its “projected” savings for permanent expenditures in critical programs will entail levels of risk not normally associated with a pilot program.
Formerly, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce supported Medicaid expansion under the private option. However, without reforms to address fraud, waste and its antiquated operating procedures, the chamber has announced their opposition to the McAuliffe’s proposal of expansion.
Anticipating difficulties with funding Medicaid expansion, the governor proposed one amendment as contingency plan to pay for coverage: “The director of the department of planning and budget is hereby authorized to transfer appropriations among agencies and programs as needed so as to implement coverage for newly eligible individuals . . . of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”
Simply put, the Gov. McAuliffe and Senate Democrats want authority to pull funding from schools, roads and public safety to pay for ObamaCare. This attempted power grab again tries to bypass the process of our government by consolidating the entirety of this policy and its funding in the governor’s mansion. Without debate and parity in the creation of significant policy, we are doing a disservice to our constituents and setting a perilous precedent for the Commonwealth.
We must de-couple Medicaid expansion from the budget, evaluate it on its own merits and return to the Virginia Way.
Del. Michael Webert
18th District representative, Virginia General Assembly