Both sides claim a shutdown is not where the debate over Virginia's budget is headed, but with no apparent resolution in sight, it is hard to see how it can be avoided.
Mike sat down one-on-one with both of the primary players in the debate over Medicaid expansion, which is the central tenant that could lead to a breakdown. Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and House Speaker Bill Howell (R) refused to entertain the idea that their negotiations might end in a stalemate, but they also both refused to give on their positions of expanding health care coverage.
On the campaign trail McAuliffe was insistent that he would not sign a budget that did not include Medicaid expansion as part of the Affordable Care Act. It was a position that was popular with the party's liberal base. But now as the negotiations begin in earnest, and he is the governor, not just a candidate, McAuliffe has softened his tone on what he will or will not give on.
"You know, maybe I’m the ultimate optimist here, but I believe we’re going to get it done," McAuliffe said. "Because to me, it makes so much common sense."
But Howell, who rules his powerful GOP caucus with an iron fist, remains committed to letting a commission formed last year take its time and map out a path forward on Medicaid without opening up the program immediately to a whole new pool of consumers. Howell believes the state does not have enough information about how expansion would impact Virginia's bottom line and he does not trust Washington to continue funding the program the way it is promising at the outset of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
"They just don’t have the ability to follow through," Howell said. "They are $17 trillion in debt today. They’re adding to that debt anywhere between a trillion and a half a trillion a year."
McAuliffe seems frustrated that the GOP won't offer him any wiggle room in the negotiations. He said he is open to hearing their ideas, but so far they have offered nothing but the word 'no'.
"When you go into negotiation and say, 'no no no no no,' you are the ones, they’re causing gridlock, McAuliffe said. "If they change it, we change it. That’s a simple part of negotiations to do. I’ve been open to that."
Howell responded that negotiations are ongoing, and it is the Governor who should not get hung up on one aspect of a complex budget.
"I can’t envision the Senate saying 'we’re going to shut this down,' for a plan that isn’t ready," he said. Adding, "If the governor gets a budget, he'll sign it."
Regardless, the showdown has left two sides in a staring contest without much of a path forward. They continue to say they aren't willing to let the budget be held hostage by the impasse, but until someone gives that appears to be where they are headed.
Virginia politicans love to point out that our legislature works differently than Washington. The next two weeks will demonstrate if that is indeed true.
Mike's full interview with Governor McAuliffe can be found below:
Mike's interview with Speaker Howell can be found here:
You can read Mike's story below:
RICHMOND (WWBT)- It’s a shutdown scenario that is possible for Virginia – would Gov. Terry McAuliffe refuse to sign the budget, if Medicaid expansion failed to pass the General Assembly?
McAuliffe made Medicaid expansion a critical campaign promise last summer. The Governor pledged to bring healthcare to 400,000 Virginians who have incomes too high for Medicaid, but too low to afford quality health insurance.
In an interview Tuesday, Gov. McAuliffe backed off the threat of a government shutdown. His comments contrasted from statements made on the camping trail, when he promised not to sign a budget unless it included Medicaid expansion.
“The only ones who are talking about a shutdown are the Republican leadership,” McAuliffe said. “We can get this done. It’s the right thing to do – to bring our tax dollars back to Virginia.”
Republican House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford) expressed optimism that a shutdown would be avoided, but said Virginia is not ready for Medicaid expansion.
“[Medicaid spending] has grown over 1,600 percent over the past 30 years,” Howell said in an interview Tuesday. “And every dollar that we don’t take from the federal government is one less dollar they have to borrow.”
The problem, in part, stems from trust with Washington. States now have the option of expanding Medicaid to thousands, with the federal government picking up most of the tab. But Republicans do not believe Washington will be able to pay for more Virginia hospital bills with current federal spending levels.
“They just don’t have the ability to follow through,” Howell said. “They are $17 trillion in debt today. They’re adding to that debt anywhere between a trillion and a half a trillion a year.”
But McAuliffe defended the federal government’s ability to keep its end of the deal, and said Virginia could change course if Washington backed out of its promise.
“First of all, they’ve never backed out of their commitment to Medicare,” McAuliffe said. “But if they change [the Medicaid deal], we change it. That’s a simple part of negotiations to do. I’ve been open to that.”
There is now a compromise plan in the Senate tentatively called “Marketplace Virginia,” where Medicaid dollars would be used to fund private health insurance options. McAuliffe said he would be open to the proposal.
“You know, maybe I’m the ultimate optimist here, but I believe we’re going to get it done,” McAuliffe said of expansion. “These 400,000 Virginians are still going to go to an emergency room. They will be treated. Somebody will pay for that. That cost will be borne by our businesses.”
-read and see Mike's full story on NBC12.com