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Special Session Opens
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageThe halls of the Pocahontas Building and Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol on the morning of the first day of the General Assembly’s special session to adopt a new two-year budget did not approximate a ghost town, as many non-regular legislative meetings often seem. But it was uncanny how many arrived early and how much access was available without all the chaotic regular session activity.

Many had office time or meetings. They walked the halls unencumbered by the typical coteries matching them step for step trying to pitch the merits or demerits of certain bills. A few even brought their legislative assistants, so access was plenty. If you needed to see a delegate or senator, and they weren’t in their office, just wait by the entrance and enjoy a casual, pressure free walk with them.

The House gaveled into session at noon. The Democrat caucus met at its usual 11:30 time and entertained an unusual guest in House Room 2 — Governor Ralph Northam. By the sounds of the behind closed door meeting, he was doing the entertaining as a couple of thunderous cheers and applause went up. Democrats sense they are inching closer to their long-held, and only recently thought as long shot, goal of Obamacare Medicaid expansion.

The disarray Republicans wore their concerns on their brows. They began their caucus a half-hour early, at 11:00. Even with the extra time the split caucus — only 19 of the 51 voted for the Medicaid expanded budget — did not reach any consensus. Sources in the meeting confirmed that each side is firmly dug into their position and no one is likely to change.

With the Obamacare aspect of the budget dominating public debate, there is almost no such discussion on the other major reason why the Senate objects to the House plan. To the extent that the tenuous federal funding dubiously "saves” Virginia money, the House spends almost all of it. At least it did in its original version. The new one, which sources said the leadership is eager to push through quickly in order to avoid more public discontent among its members, proposes some money set aside in the commonwealth’s rainy day and contingency accounts in order to alleviate rating agencies’ concerns about Virginia’s finances and preserve its rare and prized AAA bond rating.

A smattering of polite Medicaid expansion advocates rallied at the Capitol entrance. Not recognizing who was who, they asked anyone entering to vote for Obamacare. But there wasn’t much voting — only on procedural matters. Most of the talking was limited to typical morning hour speeches, such as celebrating constituent accomplishments. Budget writers worked behind the scenes as their colleagues returned home.

Meanwhile, on the second floor of the capitol where the caucuses met, it was a reunion of sorts for some lobbyists, staffs and media. The conversations got as exuberant as the Democrats’ meeting, which caused the long-serving, pleasant- as-spring docent to rise from her kiosk three times to sternly admonish them to remove themselves down the hall so as to not disturb the delegates’ meetings. Just like the budget process, spring hasn’t been pleasant this year.


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InBrief 13dec18

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