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Capitol Square Diary - Something Special
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond - Governor Ralph Northam has called the General Assembly into special session on April 11 to complete its work on the next state budget, which must be agreed upon by the end of June as the fiscal year begins July 1. Right now, it’s still anyone’s guess as to how long it will last and which way it will go — whether to include Obamacare Medicaid expansion or not.

Right now, there’s no solution in sight. Each side is dug in pretty deep: House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) and their coalition of establishment Republicans and all 49 Democrats versus a unified Senate Republican caucus.

Cox issued a fundraising appeal e-mail last week, followed by one of those "In Case You Missed The First One” reminders, touting the "conservative accomplishments” of House Republicans. It listed a plethora of liberal initiatives it defeated, but no mention of his Obamacare budget buster (nor conservative bills it stopped, as well).

There aren’t many bigger ironies in politics. It asked for donations to expand the GOP’s melting ice thin 51-seat majority because if the Democrats ever got control, just "imagine”. … Indeed, just imagine. With Republicans like that, who needs Democrats?

Not to be outdone, the formerly accommodating Senate Republicans released its own fund raising e-mail on the heels of Cox’s. It didn’t just mention Obamacare Medicaid expansion, it proudly proclaimed the unified Senate Republican stand against it and asked for support to win the budget battle. Virginia hasn’t seen a world this upside down since 1781.

The pro-Obamacare House Republicans weren’t entirely silent on the matter, though. A proxy oped appeared in the Richmond Times- Dispatch by liberal former Republican Delegates Jack Rust, Joe May and Harvey Morgan extolling the "responsible” and "conservative” nature of the House budget. A side reduced to using those three as public advocates is defending nothing "responsible” or "conservative.” In fact, it puts the speaker in bed with liberal groups now buying radio time and grassroots lobbying to drum up public support for the House budget.

Meanwhile, Democrats are biding their time, enjoying the spectacle. They expect to win in the long run, no matter how this drama plays out. They will either get what they want in the budget or Republicans fracture over it, returning Democrats to a majority in 2019 (and control of redistricting, banishing Republicans into obscurity). Or both.

Even if a budget is passed that doesn’t include the expansion, Northam will amend it with the expansion and send it back. At that point he will need only one Senate Republican to break ranks to create a 20- 20 tie that Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax can break (he cannot vote on the budget bill itself, but can vote on a gubernatorial amendment). There will an attempt to isolate and pressure the one senator needed.

Despite the new hefty Democrat House contingent, this past session was mostly quiet and bipartisan. Ironically, the biggest commotion is internal GOP mud wrestling. Cox could salvage his majority by using the Senate’s entrenchment as cover and back off, then begin damage control and reunification. But by now, there may be too much face to save. Whatever happens, the special session likely will live up to its moniker.

 





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