Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, William Howell, R-Stafford, gestures during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, March 25, 2014. Howell was joined by most of the Republican House caucus as they talked about the current budget standoff. (Steve Helber/AP)
August 15

VIRGINIA LAWMAKERS will convene in a special session next month to address the question of expanding Medicaid and, more broadly, the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor and disabled people in the state have no health insurance coverage. Democrats and some moderate Republicans have advanced a variety of ideas to tackle that problem. Conservative Republicans, who control the legislature in Richmond, have rejected those solutions while proposing no alternative. Does the GOP intend for the special session to be anything more than a charade at taxpayers’ expense?

In an exchange of letters this week with a top Democratic legislator, the Republican speaker of the House of Delegates, William J. Howell, said he is “committed to allowing a full, fair and open debate on this critical issue.” Mr. Howell added that he’s “confident” there will be time for “members to draft, file, and consider legislation.”

Those are fine sentiments. But what could they mean when the speaker is on record adamantly opposing any form of Medicaid expansion — whether it’s under the federal Affordable Care Act or not? And what could they mean when he has ruled out any plan whatsoever that relies on federal funds?

Mr. Howell, writing in January in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, argued that it would be ill-advised for the state to take funds on offer from Washington lest “that money goes away.” He also objected to using federal funds on the grounds that doing so would contribute to the national debt.

Using that (il)logic, Mr. Howell should also take a principled stand against the federal government’s agricultural subsidies, which pumped nearly $2 billion into Virginia from 1995 to 2012 to help farmers with crop insurance, disasters and conservation, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. Shouldn’t Mr. Howell urge farmers to reject the funds on the chance Washington may one day reduce or eliminate those programs and on the certitude that they inflate the national debt?

Back in January, Mr. Howell also insisted that any program to expand insurance for the needy “should be based on principles utilized in the private market.” However, when the state Senate passed just such a market-based bill, a compromise measure sponsored by a Republican, Mr. Howell refused to give it the time of day in the House of Delegates.

While insisting the House Republican caucus maintain its stance as the Party of No, Mr. Howell has also declined to elucidate the rules by which lawmakers will proceed when they convene on Sept. 18.

The House minority leader, Del. David Toscano, a Charlottesville Democrat, wrote to Mr. Howell asking straightforward, practical questions about the special session’s rules, including those covering the scope, deadline and public input for bills to be proposed. The speaker responded with vague platitudes.

That’s not a promising sign that Mr. Howell or his fellow Republicans intend for the session to be anything more than political window-dressing. In such a scenario, they may imagine Democrats will be the losers; in fact, the real losers will be the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who lack health insurance, for whom the Republicans have formulated no relief and no ideas.