Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) made a promise to expand Medicaid and Virginia and it appears he is ready to stake the future of his governorship on that promise.
In a defiant, passionate and at times angry press conference, McAuliffe scolded House Republicans for their conduct in the negotiations over the budget and said he had done all he could do to compromise.
He is done with the bargaining table. McAuliffe is pulling his cabinet members out of discussions related to the bi-partisan MIRC, designed to develop a future plan related to Medicaid. He also has instructed his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Bill Hazel, a McDonnell holdover, to develop a plan to expand Medicaid without the help of the legislature by September 1st.
"I have directed Secretary Hazel to work with our federal partners in Washington, the insurance industry, health care providers, our university medical centers, non-profit organizations, our local health departments, and the hospital industry to extend the promise of health care to our people," McAuliffe said.
But his defiance of the General Assembly budget did not stop with Medicaid. He vetoed a myriad of legislative priorities and promised he might not be done yet. He has until Sunday to submit his final changes.
Republicans only have one legislative option to stop McAuliffe at this point and that is to override their vetoes. That is an option that they clearly don't have enough votes for. Instead they are preparing to take the Governor to court. A legal battle that could shape the separation of powers in Virginia for years to come.
“Having failed to obtain a policy goal through constitutionally required legislation, he has declared his intention to do it anyway," said Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover). "Fortunately, Virginia’s courts move more quickly than the federal system."
For now though, Virginia will escape a damaging government shutdown, a scenario that would inflict wounds on both parties. Barring some new unpredictable twist, most government services will stay in place come July 1st when then budget is due.
But this protracted battle sets the stage for acrimony on Capitol Square for the remainder of McAuliffe's governorship. Republicans will likely remain in control of both houses of the legislature for the rest of his term. They will certainly carry with them the scars of this bitter mess.
McAuliffe however is sticking to his promise. A promise that has drawn him widespread praise from his political base. If he wins the court battle he will have an important accomplishment to point to for his legacy. If he loses things will get even tougher.
As one smart capitol observer told me. "It will be a long year, followed by three very short ones."