The special session of the General Assembly that convened Monday did not achieve the goal of passing a state budget for fiscal 2015 and 2016 as Republicans and Democrats continue to spar over expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.
The parties are at odds over whether to accept federal funds provided under the Affordable Care Act that would extend Medicaid coverage to adults without children who meet income eligibility requirements. An estimated 400,000 Virginians would receive medical coverage if the state expands the program.
The session began with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) introducing a new budget bill that included a two-year expansion of Medicaid, which the governor described as a pilot program.
His budget also included a 2 percent salary increase for state employees and teachers and additional funding for preschool, public elementary and secondary schools, and mental health services.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates summarily rejected McAuliffe’s new budget and instead focused on amending another version of the budget bill that had been submitted by outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) before his term expired. That amended bill passed the full House on Tuesday.
“I am disappointed that House Republicans voted today to continue Washington-style gridlock,” McAuliffe said in a news release. “As this special session moves forward, I remain eager to work with Republicans and Democrats to end this standoff by passing a budget that funds our priorities and closes the health care coverage gap.”
The Senate adjourned without taking up the House budget bill. The motion to adjourn stated that the body was to reconvene Thursday, but it is expected that senators will not return to vote on the budget until April 7.
“Today’s antics by Senate Democrats defy belief. Today, for the second time, Democrats have proven that they don’t care about teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants,” said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins in a news release. “All of these things will suffer without a state budget.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors weighed in on the Medicaid expansion debate again on Tuesday, reiterating the board’s support for Medicaid expansion.
The expansion is supported by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and the local hospital system.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large) said that about 30,000 people in Fairfax County could be eligible for coverage under an expanded Medicaid program.
“There is also an existing financial burden on County-funded safety net providers, including non-profits, which would be relieved if many of those low-income residents who currently receive uncompensated care become eligible for Medicaid,” Bulova said.
The Republicans on the county board were divided on the measure, with Supervisor Pat Herrity (R-Springfield) taking the position of state Republicans that the state budget should not be “held hostage” by the Medicaid debate and that it should be dealt with as separate legislation.
He believes that the federal government will not live up to its promise to fully fund the expansion, which could create a hole in the state budget.
Other supervisors said the budget is an appropriate place to debate legislative priorities.
Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock), who is part of a business-led initiative to reach a compromise on Medicaid, said he is not yet concerned that the state is at risk of a government shutdown, as the current budget covers operations through June 30.
“We cannot change the Affordable Care Act in either this board or in Richmond,” Cook said.
Without expansion, he said, Virginians still will pay for the costs of expanding Medicaid in taxes, as well as experiencing higher insurance costs due to hospitals continuing to serve uninsured patients.
“If we’re going to pay for it, we might as well take what we are paying for and accept the benefits,” Cook said.