McAuliffe can’t win a ‘game of chicken’ over Medicaid

April 28

The first law of holes is to know when to stop digging. We therefore urge Gov. Terry McAuliffe to reject The Post editorial board’s Medicaid expansion shovel.

In the April 25 editorial “Virginia’s game of chicken,” The Post suggested that McAuliffe start “describing to Virginians the paralysis and hardships that are likely to befall the state if Republicans continue to refuse any semblance of compromise and the government shuts down.” With all due respect, the strategy of digging up fears of a state-government shutdown has not worked and will not work, as indicated by recent polling on Medicaid expansion and the state budget from Christopher Newport University.

Even Wes Craven couldn’t make this scare tactic work.

As a legal matter, the current state budget expires July 1. Without new spending authority, there would be no legal authority to expend state money.

As a governing matter, McAuliffe possesses emergency powers to keep key state programs operating, although the mechanics are neither state-worker nor vendor friendly.

But more important, on the common-sense level, the story line urged by The Post would get a big yawn from Alfred Hitchcock. This isn’t “Psycho.” Rather, it’s becoming bizzaro.

Right now, Virginians know they face, at best, a pseudo crisis, fanned by the political elite for partisan reasons.

As we have written several times, the Medicaid expansion debate remains far too politically obvious to convince the public the sky is falling. The reality is that nearly all Republicans and most swing voters in the state don’t believe that failing to expand Medicaid is cruel to the poor, much less a top priority. Why?

In our view, it is because the Democrats have pursued a strategy of demonizing GOP politicians. We have urged them to focus instead on the real issue: some 400,000 Virginians without health insurance whose health-care bills end up being paid by Virginia taxpayers. Is there a fiscally responsible way to provide them with health care that also reduces the burden on taxpayers?

We believe there is. But the current debate won’t get us there. The governor has felt more comfortable discussing Medicaid as a jobs-and-economy issue. This is logical given his having run for office on his business background. But if you check the campaign polls, independents never gave him superior grades on economic issues. In fact, the governor ran on his “I’m the jobs guy” mantra in the 2009 Democratic primary and was beaten by Sen. Creigh Deeds.

It’s time for some tough love: The governor doesn’t have the credibility to sell Medicaid expansion as a jobs or economic growth program. This is a health-care issue, an area where he has never been seen as major policy wonk. Talking about jobs, or a government shutdown, only avoids facing the true issue.

Republicans have the upper hand — unless they lose their nerve.

Indeed, framing the debate as a “game of chicken” actually would hurt the governor’s cause.

Bottom line: The Medicaid debate is about the people who need care. Republicans know they can’t simply pretend these Virginians don’t exist. But as long as Democrats try the fear strategy, then the winning approach — an appeal to compassion and fiscal responsibility — once again never gets heard by the voters.

We know Virginians: They aren’t going to be bullied by anyone. But they are tired of being hung in effigy as uncaring, too.

They will do the right thing. But not for the wrong reason.

Norman Leahy is an editor of the conservative Web site BearingDrift.com and producer of the political radio show “The Score.” Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. They are blogging together on All Opinions Are Local during Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session.

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