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General Assembly 2018: Session Standoff
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageLate last week the House GOP e-mailed a fund raising appeal. It extolled how determined and successful the razor thin 51-seat majority Republicans were in thwarting a Democrat agenda of higher taxes, gun control and the like. It implored a financial gift in order to increase its majority in order to defeat future liberal legislative attempts.

It was a remarkable appeal considering Republican Speaker Kirk Cox and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones inserted into its budget the Holy Grail of liberal state policy objectives — Obamacare Medicaid expansion. It was a move that split their caucus, with more than half voting against the largest single-year expansion in state government, including Cox’s three leadership lieutenants: Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, Majority Whip Nick Rush and Caucus Chair (who ostensibly issued the fundraiser) Tim Hugo.

It called to mind a variation of an old joke about voting for the party that lost the legislative election: "The Republicans said if I voted Democrat we’d get Obamacare Medicaid expansion. I did. And we are.”

The rationale for capitulating seems to be that if the expansion, which relies on a 90 percent federal match of hundreds of billions of dollars that likely won’t be available before long, is excluded from the budget sent to Governor Ralph Northam, he will send it back amended with the full, unadulterated Obamacare Medicaid program. At that point he would only need to pick off two Republicans in the House and one in the Senate to get it passed.

With that likely, the thinking goes, it’s better to work out a deal that includes "conservative” safeguards and reforms. However, those features are hollow. For example, since the expansion is designed to provide medical coverage to those who work but make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford the skyrocketing cost of insurance Obamacare has created, nor qualify for it in the exchange (which was supposed to make insurance affordable for all), the ballyhooed work requirement Cox, Jones and others expound is worthless.

They also point to a so-called "Taxpayer Trigger” which would end the expansion when, if and should the feds end the match. That’s not so easy.

First, no one can point to any entitlement program that has ever ended once it starts. Second, the House budget spends a great portion of the "savings” the "federal money” provides. Are they going to yank the teacher and state employee raises and other initiatives when the match dries up? Not likely. It’s those spending plans that may be as big a difference in Senate and House budgets as the Obamacare Medicaid expansion itself.

It’s also thought that Cox doesn’t want a massive defeat in his first year as speaker. Too late for that. He has become more entrenched in his position instead of taking the easy out that the Senate has given him. In the meantime, he has split his caucus no matter how many victories the fund raising appeal can cite.

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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InBrief 13dec18

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