Special Session Looms as Republicans Remain Divided Over Medicaid

Mar 11, 2018

Virginia’s Governor will call a special session so lawmakers can finish work on the state budget. They’re at an impasse over Medicaid expansion. But the disagreement isn’t between Republicans and Democrats, it’s between the House and Senate.

It was only two months ago when control of Virginia’s House of Delegates was determined by drawing a name from a bowl. And though Democratic candidate lost there’s no doubt November’s blue wave reshaped state politics.

Heading into the session Republicans were left clinging to a one seat majority, won by chance. And it’s had policy consequences.

In mid-February Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore announced his support for Medicaid expansion on the John Fredericks show.

“As Republicans we gotta quit being the party of no,” Kilgore told the show’s host. “We’ve got to be able to come up with practical solutions to these problems.”

After years of opposition to the federally funded healthcare program for the poor, Kilgore broke the dam. A few days after that interview, a majority in the House of Delegates voted for a budget that included Medicaid expansion.

Suddenly the tension wasn’t between Democrats and Republicans, it was between Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate.  

The GOP holds a 21 to 19 majority in the state Senate, and despite having been the body to support Medicaid expansion in the past, this year Republicans have remained firmly opposed.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Republican Majority Leader Tommy Norment criticized his counterpart, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, for supporting Medicaid expansion.

“And I won’t say that that is a reflection of a meltdown but it is certainly a reflection that there is some modest chaos going down the hall,” said Norment.

 

With just a few days left of the session, Republicans remained at an impasse and announced they couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget.

Saturday, as things wound down, one Democratic Senator offered an incentive to any Republican colleague willing to switch their vote.

“Maybe some top shelf champagne from 7-11?” joked Adam Ebbin, pulling out a bottle.

Still, both houses adjourned this weekend without a budget. Speaking to reporters, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam suggests the gap between Republicans reflects who has faced the post-Trump electorate, and who hasn’t.

“There was an awakening in the House of Delegates, 15 seats were changed and they were changed because people in Virginia --- and again I’ve listened to a lot of them -- they want to expand health care,” Northam said.

As lawmakers head home for a break, Northam suggested it may be a good time for them to touch base with constituents.

“If you look at the numbers over 80-percent of Virginians want to expand coverage and so I think it’s always good for these delegates and senators to get back to their districts and hear from their constituents,” Northam said.

The Governor doesn’t know when he’ll call the special session for, but he anticipates it being sooner rather than later. Lawmakers have until July 1st to pass a budget.

 This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.