HAVING HANDED Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) a stinging defeat by refusing to extend Medicaid coverage under Obamacare to as many as 400,000 low-income Virginians, Republican leaders in Richmond now say they intend to convene the legislature in September to conduct a “full and fair” discussion of the question — which they have already decided.
By transforming the General Assembly into a stage for Kabuki theater, the GOP leaders have called attention to their glaring failure to propose any alternative to expanding Medicaid.
In the months-long impasse that ended last month with Mr. McAuliffe’s acquiescence to a budget that does not expand Medicaid, Republicans in the House of Delegates were nearly unanimous in refusing to consider expansion of the low-income insurance in any form — even so-called market-based options that have found favor in a number of Republican-led states. They were equally unanimous in refusing to put forth any other plausible plan that would cover those thousands of citizens who lack health coverage.
Nor is there any suggestion that they are working now to devise such a plan, as Republicans in a growing number of states have done in response to the gauntlet thrown down by the Affordable Care Act. Under that law, the federal government would cover the entire cost of Medicaid expansion until 2018, then gradually phase down to paying 90 percent of the cost in 2022, with states picking up the other 10 percent.
That’s an excellent deal for Virginia, as it has been for other states that have signed on, which explains why some GOP governors who are among Mr. Obama’s most bitter critics have acceded to it in one form or another. But among Republicans in Richmond, the calculus simply stops at their apparent delight in being able to deal a political defeat to both Mr. Obama and Mr. McAuliffe.
And what of the Virginians who lack health care and would benefit from some compromise on Medicaid? The speaker of the House of Delegates, William J. Howell (R-Stafford), has been silent. He prefers to engage in charades, like calling the legislature into session this fall.
Mr. Howell is concerned about Mr. McAuliffe’s promise to formulate a plan to bypass the legislature and expand Medicaid unilaterally. We doubt the governor can do that constitutionally, but he has asked the state’s health secretary, William A. Hazel Jr., to submit a plan by Sept. 1.
If Mr. Howell were truly interested in avoiding a new clash in Richmond, he wouldn’t be indulging in empty gestures like reconvening the legislature. He’d be instructing Republican policy wonks to formulate a competing plan to provide health coverage to Virginians who need it. Sadly, there’s no sign of that.