The budget/Medicaid stalemate threatening to shut down Virginia’s government proves British writer C. Northcote Parkinson’s famous law of government: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
The 2014 General Assembly session convened in January, promising to complete its two main tasks by the scheduled adjournment in mid-March: enacting a new state budget and addressing the Medicaid expansion.
It’s now June. Neither task has been completed. The public and press look increasingly disgusted. But Professor Parkinson would have a knowing smile. Legally, the new budget doesn’t have to be in place until July 1, and, technically, there is no requirement to enact any new Medicaid rules. Indeed, state government could still function post July 1 without a new budget, although far less efficiently and effectively.
We don’t mean to belittle any philosophic differences between Republicans and Democrats. But politics is often theater. Is this deadlock real or merely staged?
We believe the following 10-step process could unlock the deadlock in either case.
1. By June 15, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) delivers a joint statement with General Assembly Republicans on the key state issues posed by the roughly 400,000 low-income Virginians at the center of the Medicaid expansion discussion. Democrats and Republicans know the status quo doesn’t serve the state’s best interests on health or finance policy. This is the one fundamental point agreed on by all sides. The joint statement starts the final push toward common ground.
2. Once this statement is released, House and Senate Democrats announce they will back whatever the governor can negotiate on the budget and Medicaid expansion with Republicans. This is a big concession for legislators always protective of their independence. But it must be done.
3. Now able to speak for his party, McAuliffe asks Republican leaders to appoint a group to negotiate on the budget and Medicaid. He asks to meet them at the Governor’s Mansion on June 22.
4. At this meeting, the Governor agrees to separate Medicaid from the budget in exchange for Republicans agreeing to work with him on a special report analyzing those key issues affecting these 400,000 uninsured Virginians. This is a big concession from Republicans since it commits them to provide in written form at least their conceptual analysis on how best to move forward. The report will be issued Aug. 15.
5. With Medicaid off the table, the House and Senate can salute Professor Parkinson by passing the budget slightly before midnight June 30.
6. On Aug. 15, the bipartisan report is issued. For the first time, each side will have to respond to the same set of agreed-upon facts. This is often the breakthrough moment for bipartisan solutions.
7. On Aug. 22, after allowing for initial public discussion and input, McAuliffe calls a special General Assembly session for Sept. 15 to address the concerns in the Report.
8. Prior to the special session, McAuliffe and the Democrats propose their solutions.
9. Prior to the special session, Republicans propose their solutions.
10. The special session is convened. By law, only McAuliffe can submit legislation. Presumably, he will “send down” the most bipartisan legislation he can craft, now having the benefit of the GOP’s written thinking.
As we predicted, the bogeyman of Obamacare has both sides fearing to appear too eager to compromise. Democrats are afraid of being seen as insufficiently supportive of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment. Republicans are terrified of being viewed as insufficiently anti-Obamacare by conservative primary voters.
Medicaid expansion has become a proxy fight for something it isn’t. Democrats are right in saying Obamacare didn’t create the health-care delivery and finance issues facing Virginia. But Republicans are right in saying there is no free lunch.
Solution? We call it “look before you legislate.” Once the parameters of the problem are defined and discussed in the bipartisan report created by our approach, beneficial changes able to command General Assembly majorities will become apparent. If Democratic legislators are willing to trust the progressive instincts of the McAuliffe’s administration and Republican legislators have the courage of their fiscal convictions, then it should produce a win-win solution helpful to the poor and protective of the public treasury.
Professor Parkinson likely feels we are far too optimistic. As he correctly predicted, time will tell.
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.