Weeks after the regular General Assembly session ended in March, Virginia lawmakers passed a budget around midnight Friday.
The two-year budget does not include any expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, which had been the major sticking point between the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, the divided state Senate and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
Expanding Medicaid to cover low-income adults, as provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act, was a major part of McAuliffe’s campaign platform during the 2013 election. Republican lawmakers, many of whom firmly oppose any expansion of Medicaid, wanted to set the issue aside for review outside of the budget process.
House of Delegates Speaker William Howell said in a released statement that his chamber is still “committed to a full and fair discussion” on Medicaid expansion, although he outlined concerns he has with the proposal.
“Our current Medicaid program is unsustainable and needs reform; Virginia cannot afford the long-term costs and cannot rely on the false promise of free federal money; and we must think very carefully about creating a new welfare entitlement for able-bodied, working adults,” Howell said. “This is a complicated issue that is worthy of debate and I look forward to just that.”
Legislators also had to cut $1.5 billion from the budget plan to accommodate declining revenue estimates. Howell said the final package cuts spending in some areas that had been targeted for spending increases and also relies on the state’s rainy day fund for support.
The budget went forward only after a Democratic state senator unexpectedly resigned this week, shifting the balance of power in the evenly divided Senate back to the Republicans.
In a released statement, McAuliffe criticized the Republicans’ tactics and said he would not give up his fight to expand Medicaid access to an estimated 400,000 Virginians.
“Instead of moving forward on a plan to close the coverage gap, the Senate of Virginia moved our Commonwealth backward by violating the terms of the bipartisan agreement they reached in last year’s budget,” he said.“When this budget reaches my desk I will evaluate it carefully and take the actions that I deem necessary, but this fight is far from over.”