Republicans and Democrats in Virginia are hopelessly deadlocked on whether or not the state should expand Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured residents. Both sides are trying to figure out what might happen if Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe steps in to resolve the situation using executive authority.
"For Republicans, it's win-win. The Medicaid expansion in states where it occurs helps the state economy, and the very public opposition by Republicans to Obamacare helps them win reelection," says Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington.
The speculation among political analysts is that Republicans who sign off on an expansion of Medicaid will face primary opposition from more conservative elements in the party.
"For the Democrats, the consequences are longer term," Farnsworth says. "It does create an environment where Democrats can make a case to swing voters about greater economic security for a larger number of people in the country."
For now, the strategizing is happening behind closed doors. Party leaders on both sides are expressing public optimism that some kind of budget deal can be crafted to prevent a government shutdown. In private, though, Christopher Newport University professor Quentin Kidd says, political operatives are trying to figure out what might happen if the deadlock in the General Assembly prompts the governor to take unilateral action.
"Every member gets something that helps them protect their own seat, but neither party gets something that would really put one over on the other party," Kidd says.
All of that is temporary, though, because the executive order would have limited influence. Kidd says next year, legislators would face the same budget imbroglio over expanding Medicaid they faced this year.
"It might be able to be done once. But I don't think it can be done again unless it's in the budget. So we might be back in this situation again," Kidd says.
Unless some kind of deal is struck by the end of next month, the Virginia government could experience the first government shutdown in history.