Virginia Medicaid saga takes new twist

Greg Nash

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) on Friday said he would sign the state’s two-year budget but veto an amendment that would prevent him from expanding Medicaid under ObamaCare.

Republicans in the legislature quickly challenged the move, signaling they could go to court to argue McAuliffe's use of a line item veto was unconstitutional.

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McAuliffe promised he would expand Medicaid when he was running for governor, and his decision on Friday will trigger a major battle with Republicans in the state who seemed to have the upper hand after they unexpectedly took back the state Senate after the resignation of a Democrat.

“We have the right to help people and do the right thing, this isn’t about politics,” McAuliffe said at a Friday press conference. “When I think of these people I go to bed every night with a pit in my stomach ... we’re going to get this done.”

Republicans have the votes to override McAuliffe's veto in the House, but not in the Senate. That seems to set the stage for a legal battle. The GOP had included language in the budget bill meant to prevent McAuliffe from expanding Medicaid.

“The Governor has no authority to expand Medicaid unilaterally or without the specific approval of the General Assembly," six top Republicans in Virginia's legislature said in a statement. 

They accused McAuliffe of usurping his powers, and said it was a dangerous threat to Virginia's separation of powers.

McAuliffe has ordered state Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel to propose a Medicaid expansion plan by Sept. 1.

McAuliffe had sought to win legislative approval of Medicaid’s expansion by including language broadening the program as part of a budget bill.

But when Republicans unexpectedly took control of the Virginia Senate after a Democratic resignation, they passed a budget that did not include a Medicaid expansion.

Republicans argue expanding Medicaid will cost too much for Virginians. Although the federal government has pledged to pick up most of the costs, they say the federal government can’t be trusted to do so.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare.

The expansion has been controversial in many states, with a number of Republican governors refusing to accept federal money to expand the program.

This story was updated at 3:55 p.m.

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