WITH VIRGINIA lacking an enacted budget and facing the growing risk of a government shutdown in just over a month, the top Republicans in the House of Delegates, Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) and Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (Colonial Heights), requested an urgent meeting the other day with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Eager to surmount the impasse that may imperil Richmond’s ability to provide public safety, health care and other basic services — to say nothing of the state’s bond rating and reputation for good governance — surely the GOP bigwigs had constructive ideas, possibly even one that might sow the seeds of compromise.
They didn’t. In a 30-minute meeting, Mr. Howell and Mr. Cox had the same old one-note message about Medicaid expansion, which 27 states have now embraced. Their message was: No. They might as well have issued a news release and called it a day.
The two men didn’t just repeat their negative message; they broadened it. In the past, they have said no to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Then they said no to a Senate-approved proposal — one drafted by a Republican and designed to appeal to conservatives — that would use new federal Medicaid funds to buy private insurance for low-income enrollees.
Finally, in the meeting with Mr. McAuliffe on Tuesday, Mr. Howell and Mr. Cox said no to a plan similar to that proposed by one of the most conservative Republican governors, Mike Pence of Indiana. Mr. Pence, like GOP governors in Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Utah and elsewhere, is seeking a deal that would unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid funds for an alternative to Medicaid. His plan would expand an existing state program that relies on health savings accounts to which participants contribute 2 to 5 percent of their monthly income; the state chips in Medicaid funds up to a strict limit.
Mr. Howell and Mr. Cox have no plan to cover the hundreds of thousands of low-income residents of Virginia who lack health insurance. Their only apparent agenda is to deal a political defeat to Mr. McAuliffe, who ran last year on a promise of expanding Medicaid, and by extension to President Obama. If the question contains the word “Medicaid,” Mr. Howell’s and Mr. Cox’s answers contain the word “no.”
Their strategy, if you can call it that, is likely to lead to disaster. Without a budget, salaries for the state’s 100,000 employees, who include police, prison guards and hospital workers, cannot be paid as scheduled on July 1. Ditto payments to holders of Virginia’s bonds, including those due $66 million on July 16 and $235 million on Aug. 1. Wall Street rating agencies will take immediate notice and are likely to downgrade the state’s bond ratings, which will cost Virginians millions more in higher interest payments.
Taking the governor for a fool, the GOP House leaders say they want to sever Medicaid from the budget and consider it separately in a special session. But since they have been crystal clear that their intent is to kill any Medicaid expansion plan, their proposal is really no proposal at all — again.