RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate reconvened Tuesday for a possible vote on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but no bill immediately came to the floor as Democrats pulled back from a threat to deploy a “nuclear” procedural move.
Instead, the Senate will return in a week, a delay billed as a way to give senators more time to study the latest Medicaid expansion plan, which was announced the day before by a key GOP senator and the House’s budget chief.
“A last-ditch obstructionist effort,” state Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) called the development.
In a rare outburst from the Senate gallery, two women shouted. “People are dying!” one of them called out. “Do your job!”
The delay came with a change in tone from Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City), who for the first time publicly acknowledged that expansion is likely to pass the Senate. The House has already backed it.
“I think there will be a dispositive vote next week,” Norment told reporters. “I think there is a probability it will pass. The question is, in what form?”
Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said last week that he would make a motion to yank the state budget bill away from the Senate Finance Committee if the panel did not send a spending plan to the full Senate before it reconvened Tuesday.
But Democrats needed one Republican to join the motion to “discharge” the committee, which would have propelled the budget bill to the floor against the panel’s wishes. Democrats thought Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr. (Augusta), who supports expansion, would support them, but on Tuesday, he seemed to suggest he wanted more time.
“I came here prepared to kind of push things along,” Hanger said in a floor speech. “We are a cordial body, and the courtesies are being extended here today . . . with historic tradition in mind.”
The General Assembly needs to approve a budget measure by July 1 or face a government shutdown.
In an interview Monday night, Hanger said he would prefer to see the budget go through the normal committee process, although he did not rule out supporting a discharge motion eventually.
The Senate met one day after Hanger and House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) said they had worked out a plan to allow up to 400,000 uninsured Virginians to enroll in Medicaid. Hanger has long backed expansion of the federal-state health insurance program for the poor — but with conditions that seemed hard to square with the plan backed by the House.
Their compromise seemed to add to momentum for passage, which had been building since a second Republican, state Sen. Frank W. Wagner (Virginia Beach), publicly backed expansion in recent weeks. Tuesday’s surprise delay deflated expectations that the years-long Medicaid battle would wind down this week, but all sides seemed to agree that it is inevitable.