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Virginia Democrat backs down from GOP job amid bribery allegations

Republicans are said to be trading two job offers for one Democrat’s state Senate seat, in the latest twist in the Obamacare fight.
Phillip Puckett
State Sen. Phillip Puckett listens to debate during the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 8, 2010.

Updated 3 p.m.

Following a firestorm of criticism that he was bribed to resign, Virginia Democratic state Sen. Phillip Puckett will not seek a job within the state's tobacco commission, according to the Washington Post. 

On Sunday, the Post reported that Republicans would trade Puckett a job for himself and a judgeship for his daughter in exchange for his resignation, three people familiar with the deal told the Post. Puckett's resignation is still expected to pave the way for his daughter's new job, the Post noted.

The reported deal is the most bizarre twist yet in the state's fight over Obamacare; Puckett's resignation comes just as Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, attempts to expand Medicaid in the state, and gives the GOP at least temporary control of the state Senate that McAuliffe was counting on to support the expansion.

Other Republicans denied to the Post that Puckett was offered a job in exchange for resigning—an alleged deal that could raise legal questions. Puckett didn't respond to calls from the Post seeking comment Sunday. No one answered the phone at his Capitol office Monday.

The Medicaid expansion is largely funded by the federal government through Obamacare and it would give 400,000 low-income Virginians healthcare coverage. But Virginia Republicans, like their counterparts in Congress, complain that the expansion is too costly. The law requires states to fund a growing percentage of the program—up to 10%—after 2016.

“It’s astounding to me. The House Republican caucus will do anything and everything to prevent low-income Virginians from getting health care ... They figure the only way they could win was to give a job to a state senator,” Democrat Scott Surovell, a House of Delegates representative, told the Post. “At least they can’t offer Terry McAuliffe a job. I hope Terry continues to stand up to these bullies.”

Puckett had been a senator since 1998, but his district is quite red—67% of the district voted for Mitt Romney in 2012—and it will be tough for Democrats to keep the seat, meaning that the deal will likely permanently alter the make-up of Virginia’s legislature.

McAuliffe released a statement acknowledging that Puckett’s departure could hurt his effort to expand Medicaid in the state. 

“I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia,” McAuliffe said according to the Post. “This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap." 

A 2012 Supreme Court ruling on the healthcare law gave states the right to choose whether or not they’d expand Medicaid and created a battleground for states to fight over Obamacare.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid; the others are either debating an expansion or have refused to go forward with it, even as the uninsured rate drops more in the states that have expanded it. One study found that more than 15 million people could benefit from an expansion in the states that haven’t expanded Medicaid yet.

Since Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion went into effect earlier this year, the uninsured rate has fallen nearly four points, despite almost half of all states not participating. Among minorities and low-income Americans, it has fallen even more.