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Virginia Democratic Senator Resigns, Shifting Balance In Medicaid Negotiations

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The political balance in Richmond has shifted at a critical moment for Virginia's budget negotiations.
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The political balance in Richmond has shifted at a critical moment for Virginia's budget negotiations.

Control of the Virginia state Senate hangs in the balance now that a Democratic state senator is announcing his resignation. Republicans are poised to take control of the chamber as the deadline approaches for passing a budget.

What will happen to 400,000 uninsured Virginians? That's the question now at the center of a fierce debate in Richmond, where Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked over the budget. Whether or not it should include expanding Medicaid coverage for those who live in poverty and with disabilities.

That's why the resignation of state Senator Phil Puckett of Russell County has the potential to reshuffle the deck on the budget debate and Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy says Sen. Phil Puckett notified the governor's office Saturday that he's stepping down.

Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore says the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization's executive committee is considering giving Puckett a staff job. Kilgore is the chairman of the commission. The resignation also opens the door for the confirmation of Puckett's daughter as a judge.

Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw says Puckett's resignation will be effective Monday.

The resignation opens the door to Republicans assuming control of the evenly divided Senate, where the Democrats had one vote majority. Now Republicans are poised to take control of the Senate just as the final negations of the budget — and Medicaid expansion — reach an endgame.

Late Sunday evening, McAuliffe said he's "deeply disappointed" by the news of the resignation, adding that Democrats will continue to fight for a compromise that expands health insurance for those who currently have no coverage.

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