The governor was outmaneuvered. But he remains defiant and on Friday he cleared the way for executive action on Medicaid expansion.
It was a predictable move, one that reflects a distasteful approach popular in the White House. When Congress reaches an impasse or refuses to act —a common occurrence — President Barack Obama has taken to using executive orders to advance his agenda. It is a hallmark of the so-called “imperial presidency,” which his predecessor expanded dramatically.
Now it is Gov. McAuliffe who earns our criticism with his decision. And we call on him to back away from this worrisome bit of brinksmanship.
But to change the law, the governor must either rally lawmakers to his side or convince voters that new legislators are needed. He cannot elect to steamroll the people’s representatives when he decides the circumstances warrant.
Gov. McAuliffe lost this round, but that does not empower him to rewrite the rules.
It was Mr. McAuliffe who sought the democratic validity of expanding low-income health coverage with legislative approval. He asked the General Assembly to approve taking the cash the federal government set aside to pump up the state’s Medicaid program, or at least to accept the money and expand coverage among low-income Virginians some other way. Months of deadlock resulted, but in the end Mr. McAuliffe failed to persuade lawmakers.
No matter their motives, it is hard to see how Mr. McAuliffe can now turn around and tell the people of Virginia that the last several months of political strife in Richmond, which included the threat of a state government shutdown, was unnecessary from the get go. We believe that the legislature should end its standoff with the governor by taking the generous deal the federal government is offering Virginia. But as he develops his backup plan, Mr. McAuliffe cannot pretend as though the General Assembly has not spoken.
McAuliffe’s strategy, however, also paves the way for a protracted legal battle and political enmity likely to persist through the remaining three years of his term.
As he has done frequently in recent months, the governor spent one moment offering to work with his Republican opponents and another chastising them in language that makes cooperation more difficult.
Simply put, it is a government of law, not of executive fiat.
Mr. McAuliffe might chafe at that restriction, but it is intended to align government control more closely with the voters: Many voices may be heard through Virginia’s 40 Senate and 100 House districts, honoring the diversity of the commonwealth’s political thought. This is a much more democratic arrangement than relying on the voice, and decisions, of one man chosen in one election.
Yes, it can be frustrating that power so dramatically divided between two parties creates political gridlock and difficulty in advancing initiatives.
But these results are the will of the people, the voters. In fact, divided power can be an essential mechanism of restraint, preventing initiatives from being rushed to completion without adequate reflection.
In Virginia, we hold this truth to be self-evident: We are a government of law, not of executive fiat. Mr. McAuliffe trifles with this principle at his peril.
While it is true the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate precludes a veto override, the state’s governing document does require legislative approval of all appropriations, even of federal pass-through funds. So how can the governor, with any shred of legitimacy, expand the Medicaid program by executive fiat? Yet, by his pronouncements Friday, this is what he clearly intends to do.
Which brings us back to a point we made earlier, albeit facetiously: We don’t know who’s been advising the governor on his constitutional prerogatives, but even a cursory assessment of his stances, implied as well as spoken, on funding and judicial appointments suggests such counsel has been either misguided or flat-out wrong.
But then, in his approach to governance — fast-and-loose or seemingly come-day-go-day on the one hand, and pettily vindictive on the other — Mr. McAuliffe takes his cues elsewhere. “I’ve always said that if the federal government changes in any manner,” he revealingly observed during his press rant, “we change, plain and simple.”
And that’s precisely what he’s done. Now that President Obama no longer considers himself bound by the Constitution he solemnly swore to uphold, Terry McAuliffe, by all indications, has swept away all such constraints as well.
Thus, he now presides over Washington-on-the James.
To fret about the paperwork may seem cramped and uncaring; on the other hand, we have checks and balances in government for a reason, even if we don’t always like the outcome they produce. Democrats may cheer McAuliffe now, but someday could rue the precedent if a future Republican governor can’t get his way with the legislature.