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Special Session: Financial and Senate Storms Ahead
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRICHMOND VA – The budget deal was supposed to have been done last week. At least movement in the process was expected. But no one told Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg). Apparently, no one told him a couple of things.

It was supposed to play out that a deal between Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County) and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Delegate Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) would also snag Senator Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) giving the Senate the 21 votes needed to include Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Virginia’s budget.

The plan included discharging the spending plan from the Senate Finance Committee via a rare floor motion, although there seems to be uncertainty over how many votes are needed and what motions are in order. It never got that far.

In fact, the Finance Committee never met. When the 40 senators reconvened on the 23rd it became a session as stormy as the deluge of rain and thunder hammering the capital city in what was an extraordinary exchange of charges between members.

Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield) said his patience was wearing thin but was willing to go one more week to iron out details of the deal, but warned if the Finance Committee did not produce a budget bill he would go "nuclear” and bring up the motion to discharge the committee from its duties and bring an amended form of the House budget directly to the floor with the Senate operating as a committee of the whole.

The House was supposed to meet the next day to agree to the Senate’s changes and send it directly to Governor Ralph Northam. Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) released a rebuke of the Senate for not getting its work done and cancelled the House’s session.

But Medicaid expansion opponents had their say as well. Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) took to the floor to hammer Democrats for "lecturing” opponents on health care when it’s the party that funds Planned Parenthood and the killing of the unborn. Senator Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) told Northern Virginia Democrats that Southside and Southwest Virginians are tired of being "lectured” by them as to what those regions need, pointing out that only hospitals must accept Medicaid while doctors and specialists don’t — creating more red tape, expense, higher insurance costs which drive people off of private coverage and chaos at emergency rooms where people without insurance end up, all leading to less access. Others pointed out Northam’s veto of three insurance bills that would have brought down costs and increased options, including allowing various associations to join together for group insurance.

But the winner for oratory had to go to Norment, who blasted the media and others attempting to drive a wedge between him and the GOP base with rumors that his opposition to the massive growth of state government was only public while he was working behind the scenes to see it through. He left no doubt about his opposition, forcefully citing the risk of a $274 billion a year hole to cover. Then he debunked rumors that he would not seek re-election but would, in fact, would return after the 2019 campaign to "kick your ass.”

The gallery was not exempt from raucousness. Pro-Medicaid expansion protestors were removed for yelling trite bromides about killing people at senators who oppose the plan. By the end of this week we will either have a grossly expanded Virginia budget or be on the precipice of not having a budget at all.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.

 





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