Despite Medicaid battle, Loudoun’s legislators gracious at chamber breakfast
The seven Republican and two Democratic elected officials were markedly courteous and civil during the hour-and-a-half-long discussion, despite fierce partisanship and rhetoric in Richmond and throughout the state in recent weeks.
Virginia's delegates and senators returned to Richmond for a special session Monday with hopes of striking an agreement on a two-year state budget. The single item holding up the budget comes in the form of Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democrats support expansion and the GOP-controlled House is firmly opposed.
The House passed a budget Tuesday and then mocked their Senate colleagues for having left town without passing a budget of their own. After the House voted along party lines to approve the nearly $96 billion two-year budget this week, an ebullient group of Republican delegates walked their version of the budget over to present to an empty and darkened Senate chamber.
The full Senate, following their quick appearance this week, is scheduled to return to Richmond to April 7.
Del. Tag Greason (R-32nd) was viewed by several of his colleagues at the chamber event as the authoritative voice on the budget. Greason is among the budget conferees selected to hash out a deal between the House and Senate budgets.
Greason, like his party leaders and dozens of local jurisdictions, wants the General Assembly to pass a budget that doesn't include expansion, which would eliminate the prospect of a state government shutdown over the summer. Then, Greason says, he'll be open to continuing the Medicaid debate.
"We have got to pass this budget, get it done," Greason said. "We could have done it on March 8 and we would be 30 days into our discussion on Medicaid expansion."
Greason's colleague, Del. Tom Rust (R-86th), is the lone Republican in the House who supports Medicaid expansion, and he didn't waver in that support during the chamber breakfast.
Rust reasoned that Virginia taxpayers are sending tens of millions of health care dollars to Washington regardless of whether the state expands Medicaid.
"My [private] firm is about business people who understand business,” Rust said. "My firm today is paying $136,000 per year for, in essence, Obamacare, Medicaid expansion ... and we're getting back zero. We need to do something."
Under Medicaid expansion, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and 90 percent for every year thereafter.
In general, Republicans are skeptical the federal government will make good on its funding promise and express concern about growing an entitlement program that has already realized ballooning costs.
On hand and speaking in support of Medicaid expansion at the breakfast were Democratic senators Jennifer Wexton (D-33rd) and Barbara Favola (D-31st) are supporters of the Medicaid expansion. The remaining Republican lawmaker on stage – Sen. Dick Black (R-13th) and Dels. David Ramadan (R-87th), Jim LeMunyon (R-67th), David LaRock (R-33rd) and Randy Minchew (R-10th) – oppose.
State Del. Barbara Comstock (R-34th) was the only state legislator that represents portions of Loudoun who did not attend.
Beyond the Medicaid battle, the lawmakers agreed the General Assembly came together to pass key legislation reducing the number of Standards of Learning tests students take, strengthening mental health care, and enacting modest ethics reform.
Associated Press writer Alan Suderman contributed to this report.