After 90 minutes of debate on a bill that would have expanded Medicaid in Virginia, the measure failed to reach a floor vote, killing the idea for the 2014 General Assembly special session.
The compromise proposed by Republican Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) would have allowed 400,000 needy Virginians to purchase private health insurance, using federal Medicaid funds.
But in a 64-33 vote, the House of Delegates refused to "engross" Rust's bill, meaning the bill never came to a full vote.
"The decision on this bill was made before we arrived in Richmond; the debate was mere window dressing," said House Democratic Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville). "The rejection of this legislation is further proof that this entire Medicaid special session was a charade."
In an interview Thursday, House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said the compromise bill relied on waivers that were unlikely to be approved, and had a series of problems that made its implementation difficult.
"I think going forward when we return in January, we will not be seeing any Republican bills related to Medicaid expansion," Cox said. "We are more concerned with Medicaid reform."
Gov. Terry McAuliffe has fought for Medicaid expansion since his time on the campaign trail, arguing that accepting federal funds will bring back tax dollars sent from Virginia to D.C.
Democratic lawmakers asserted that as money returned to the Commonwealth and 400,000 more Virginians received coverage through Medicaid, more healthcare jobs would be created at home.
"As I've always said, I'm the ultimate optimist," McAuliffe said at a news conference Thursday. "There are no arguments left why we should not close the coverage gap."
Earlier in the special session, both the Virginia House and Senate put on an unusual display of bipartisanship, overwhelmingly passing a measure to close the state's $882 million budget shortfall.
The measure passed the Senate 36-2, and the House 93-4.
But in order to balance the books and keep Virginia's financial picture stable over the next two years, lawmakers agreed to cut $192 million to state agencies, $90 million to higher education, and $60 million to local governments.
"Acting sooner rather than later to address the budget shortfall creates certainty for our economy, gives state agencies flexibility to cut spending while protecting the core functions of government, and ensures that Virginia will maintain its Triple-A bond rating," said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford).
"This responsible action demonstrates clearly that while Richmond and Washington are separated by just 90 miles on a map, we are worlds apart when it comes to spending policy."