Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Friday he will sign a two-year state budget void of Medicaid expansion, thus avoiding a government shutdown, but not before using his line-item veto authority to nix several controversial provisions within the spending plan.
At a press conference in Richmond just before noon, the Democratic McAuliffe assailed House Republicans for what he characterized as “turning their backs” on the people of Virginia. The Virginia GOP's answer to every modest proposal, McAuliffe said, was a “resounding no.”
McAuliffe said the commonwealth will “move forward” on expanding health care to Virginians, and he tasked Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Hazel with providing a clear plan by Sept. 1. The plan will "tailor how we move forward with health care in the face of the demagoguery, the lies, the fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for far too long."
Included within McAuliffe's planned vetoes are striking a floor amendment to the budget bill that limited the governor's power to advance Medicaid expansion, and eliminating the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, or MIRC, created last year to usher in expansion.
It has become clear, the governor said, that the commission is “merely a sham to pretend that the legislature is actually doing something to help people.”
Republican lawmakers responded Friday by saying they will examine McAuliffe's vetoes and take what they see as the necessary action when the House reconvenes Monday.
"The Constitution and Supreme Court proscribe specific limits on the Governor’s line-item veto authority," the GOP statement reads. "We will review these vetoes to determine if they fall within the narrow scope of that authority, and once that review is complete the House will act accordingly. The governor has no authority to expand Medicaid unilaterally or without the specific approval of the General Assembly."
All year leaders of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates has resolutely opposed Medicaid expansion in any form, bringing to a halt budget negotiations between those conservatives and Democrats in favor of growing the entitlement program.
A breakthrough in the talks came June 9 when former state Sen. Phil Puckett abruptly resigned his seat, sparking controversy and tipping power in the upper house from Democrats to the GOP.
A week ago, the General Assembly approved a two-year budget that did not include Medicaid expansion. In addition to the power-shift, lawmakers were nudged to action by a growing state revenue shortfall, now estimated at $1.5 billion. Without approving a budget, the state isn't allowed to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in the commonwealth's rainy day fund.
While Republicans hostile to Obamacare have decried the state's Medicaid program as inefficient and too costly, Democrats have underscored that the commonwealth is foregoing an estimated $5 million in federal funds every day the state declines expansion.
Expanding Medicaid has been estimated to provide health care to as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians while also bringing hundreds of millions in federal tax dollars back into state coffers.
The following were McAuliffe's planned vetoes as of Friday, according to the governor's office:
1. McAuliffe intends to veto language authorizing the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission to Approve Medicaid reforms as a requirement for Medicaid Expansion (MIRC). The General Assembly made the commission irrelevant by removing their appropriations authority from the budget, McAuliffe said.
2. McAuliffe intends to veto the amendment limiting any appropriation or expenditure of funds in the State Treasury to address the health care coverage gap without specific authorization or an appropriation bill enacted by the General Assembly on or after July 1, 2014. According to the governor, the amendment is unnecessary given its intent to restrict an appropriation that does not exist anywhere in the budget.
3. McAuliffe intends to veto funding for all new judges to which the General Assembly has attached language limiting the governor from making appointments when the legislature is out of session. The governor said his right to fill judicial vacancies when the General Assembly is out of session is key to keeping the judiciary running efficiently.
4. McAuliffe intends to veto an appropriation that will allow Chesterfield County to partner with the City of Petersburg to improve the quality of Petersburg schools. The governor is committed to improving underperforming schools, but he is concerned about the constitutionality of the legislation and neither locality requested the change.
5. McAuliffe intends to veto an item that would revert $4.6 million away from the Federal Action Contingency Trust (FACT) Fund. This money is needed, the governor said, to help protect Virginia’s military installations from federal cuts or potential actions of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.
6. McAuliffe intends to veto the appropriation for the newly created Virginia Conflicts of Interest Advisory Commission out of his concern over the weakness of the ethics legislation passed by the General Assembly. He said he intends to introduce stronger legislation in the next session, making the creation of a new bureaucracy premature and unwise.
7. McAuliffe intends to veto budget language dealing with asset forfeiture settlements at the request of the Office of the Attorney General. According to the governor's office, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) has indicated that while they are willing to continue to work on a possible resolution of issues, the adopted language will cause the commonwealth difficulty in executing future settlements of this type.
8. The governor also announced that, in addition to his actions on the budget, he has directed the Virginia Department of General Services to suspend any actions on the new $300 million General Assembly Building in Richmond. McAuliffe said building new offices for legislators to use part time is wrong when the General Assembly couldn't find additional money to fight homelessness in Virginia.
This story has been updated from an earlier version.