It’s a stomach-churning prospect that’s spread from Washington to Richmond – a possible shutdown this spring, with Medicaid at the center of the battle.
The shutdown scenario returned Monday, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced 19 amendments to the current and upcoming 2015-16 biennial budget. The most controversial of McAuliffe’s amendments, a proposal that would give the Governor, not legislators, the sole power to expand Medicaid.
“Time is of the essence,” McAuliffe said in a news conference Monday. “Every day we wait costs Virginia $5 million, and puts the Virginians who would benefit [from Medicaid expansion] waiting in limbo.”
The danger lies in a simple scenario: if the Republican controlled General Assembly does not expand the government program, would Gov. McAuliffe refuse to sign the entire budget?
“I will not sign a budget in Virginia unless it includes the Medicaid expansion,” McAuliffe said in an August 2013 AARP profile interview. McAuliffe made Medicaid expansion a signature issue on the campaign trail, and used Monday’s amendment presentation to solidify his stance just nine days after taking the oath of office.
Republican Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) reiterated in the Capitol rotunda shortly after the Governor’s comments that McAuliffe would not make progress in his fight.
“I do not see us expanding Medicaid this year,” Cox said Monday. “I think we’re going to see a series of proposals from the Governor, probably a new one every day to get at that issue. That’s not going to change the opposition on Medicaid expansion.”
Under McAuliffe’s proposed budget amendment, if lawmakers do not make a decision on expanding Medicaid, McAuliffe will get to decide the issue.
Authority to make the decision now lies with members of the General Assembly, specifically, lawmakers who form the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission (MIRC). McAuliffe requested MIRC to make a decision before March 8. But members have said their work could take years, not weeks.
“The members of the MIRC commission should be the ones to make the decision,” McAuliffe said. “But if we reach the end of the legislative session and there is no answer for the people of Virginia, I hope we can work together to transfer that decision making authority to the Office of the Governor.”
Why would McAuliffe risk sending Virginia into a shutdown situation? According to McAuliffe, the federal dollars from a Medicaid expansion equate to $6 billion for the Commonwealth’s economy and 30,000 new jobs.
The federal government has promised to fund 100 percent of the proposed Medicaid expansion for the next three years. But Republicans doubt Washington will keep its promise to pick up the tab down the road.
When asked on how a shutdown could play out in Richmond, Del. Cox said the tactic would be counterproductive.
“We’ve been very clear from the beginning that drawing that line in the sand would be inappropriate,” Cox said.
But Monday’s budget proposals by McAuliffe were largely symbolic. Cox said the General Assembly would not even accept McAuliffe’s budget proposals until the legislature passed its version of a spending plan. He believes it is just one of many ways McAuliffe will present a path forward on Medicaid expansion.
"Basically he is going to try a bunch of different ways to get across his point on Medicaid expansion,” Cox said. “And my job today is to get across the point that we are not going to expand Medicaid."
After Monday’s amendment announcement, McAuliffe agreed that he would attempt to keep his Medicaid campaign promises, even if his proposed amendment does not gain traction.
“Let's come up with some creative new ideas, let's do it the Virginia way, whatever we want to call it,” McAuliffe said. “My goal is governor is to bring back that $6 billion over the next three years."
It is simply the beginning of a long process, with both sides likely to budge in the weeks ahead. A road to a shutdown is far from certain – whether Richmond welcomes governing Washington-style by Virginia’s latest governor or the General Assembly remains to be seen.