On day 83 of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s budget crisis, there was a small opening that could have kick-started discussions on the current budget crisis. Then Senator Dick Saslaw, Governor McAuliffe’s top lieutenant in the Democrat-controlled Senate, emphatically slammed the door.
The door dividing the Virginia General Assembly in a budget stalemate was briefly ajar Thursday when a Republican state senator offered a compromise – before the Senate’s ranking Democrat slammed it shut.A proposal from Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, would have freed the two-year budget bill from a General Assembly procedural purgatory in exchange for policy concessions on a Medicaid expansion plan supported by 22 other senators, most Democrats in the House and Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, where opposition to expansion runs high, welcomed the arrival of Hanger’s proposal with about one month until the current budget expires June 30, raising fears of a possible state government shutdown.
“Senator Hanger has made a productive offer that leaves us encouraged about the prospects of reaching an agreement on the state budget,” read a statement from House Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford County, and his lieutenants.
Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw of Fairfax County rejected Hanger’s pitch, though.
“That’s a very bad idea,” he told The Virginian-Pilot as he strode through downtown Richmond.
Saslaw said he hadn’t been consulted by Hanger and wasn’t aware of his colleagues being briefed on the plan before it was publicly released Thursday afternoon.
“I think the Tea Party finally got to him,” Saslaw said of Hanger.
For weeks, Governor McAuliffe and Democrats have chided House Republicans for “just saying no” to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, ignoring the fact that a solid majority of Virginians also oppose expansion and that House leaders have committed to a special session entirely devoted to considering, discussing and debating the issue after the budget is passed.
When the first real compromise proposal was offered Thursday, the only person actually saying no was Senator Saslaw.
Governor McAuliffe and Senator Saslaw created this crisis. For weeks, they have refused to consider any budget proposal that does not include Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. When the House passed a budget, the Senate went home and stayed there. For over nine weeks, it’s been all or nothing, their way or the highway.
They have taken the budget and the eight million Virginians who depend on it hostage, threatening a government shutdown and refusing to do their job unless they get their way on Obamacare
That didn’t work in Washington last year, and it’s not going to work in Virginia now.
Governor McAuliffe and Senator Saslaw should drop their demands for Obamacare and pass a budget that funds Virginia’s schools, roads, first responders and local governments right away.
The clear path forward is to set Medicaid expansion aside, pass the budget and continue the debate on Medicaid expansion in a separate special session.
Over 100 local governments, school boards and elected leaders support this position, including the pro-expansion Mayor of Virginia Beach Will Sessoms. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce agrees that lawmakers should set aside any issue that creates an impasse. Democratic Senator Chuck Colgan said we should pass the budget first and debate Medicaid expansion later. Expansion proponent Senator Emmett Hanger is now offering to discuss decoupling. Democratic Delegate Daun Hester wants to sue the Senate in order to get them to act on the budget.
Unfortunately though, none of that matters because Senator Dick Saslaw says “no.”