Lawmakers in Richmond had a lengthy debate on amendments to the state budget Thursday, saving the biggest issue for last: Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.
It's a complicated issue but, to put it simply, House Republicans do not like the idea of expanding Medicaid. To prove it, at the last minute they added expansion to the House budget with the expectation it would get voted down.
It’s the latest move in a contentious game of political chess.
“To some extent it's a little bit of a stunt that they're trying to use to keep their folks in line. They are not going to let those folks sway from the leadership position on this vote,” said 57th District Delegate David Toscano (D).
It's a preview with a message: the House of Delegates will not go along with Medicaid expansion. During a lengthy debate Thursday, Republican leaders proposed a private option for expansion - identical to a compromise backed by the Senate - with the goal of voting it down.
“There is nothing in this two-year budget that Medicaid expansion would fix as far of a lack of funding of things that we can control,” said 76th District Delegate Chris Jones (R).
Among those things are rising costs for hospitals. House Republicans want to set aside more than $100 million to offset those costs rather than expand Medicaid.
All of this is setting up for contentious negotiations with Senate lawmakers over the coming weeks.
“If we do not have a budget because of Medicaid expansion being included in the debate, then I would venture to say our coveted AAA bond rating could be in jeopardy,” Jones said.
Democrats and some Senate Republicans say not embracing Medicaid expansion and the federal funds that come with it will come with other costs and cuts to the budget originally proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell.
“Broadband, cyber security, judicial vacancies…Had we taken Medicaid money we would be in a position to perhaps invest in some of these other things that are important,” Toscano said.
Lawmakers have until March 8 to come to terms on the 2014-15 biennial budget.