The Virginia General Assembly has passed a state budget after adopting an amendment saying Gov. Terry McAuliffe cannot expand Medicaid without legislative approval. McAuliffe must now decide whether to veto the budget, or to propose further amendments to authorize Medicaid expansion.
Virginia Republicans were able to pass the budget after gaining control of the Senate on Monday when Democratic Sen. Phil Puckett announced his resignation earlier this week.
If McAuliffe decides to use executive authority to expand Medicaid, he could potentially sour his relationship with Republicans and jeopardize the rest of his time as governor. If he moves forward without expanding health insurance for 400,000 uninsured Virginians, it would violate a campaign promise. Or he could opt to go over the fiscal cliff and shut the government down.
"Sometimes you have to do what is in the best interest of the state as a whole, and right now what's in the best interest of the state as a whole is the passage of a budget," said state Sen. John Watkins, one of the moderate Republicans supporting a private plan to expand Medicaid known as Marketplace Virginia. Along with the other moderate Republicans, he voted with the majority of lawmakers to fund the budget for now and hope for a special session later.
Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw pointed out that many senators enjoy health insurance while their constituents don't.
"You talk about hypocrisy, you're poster children for it," Saslaw said.
In a written statement after the vote, McAuliffe said: "Virginians deserve better than representatives who put narrow ideology ahead of what is best for our families, economy and budget."