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McAuliffe raises the stakes in Virginia standoff

Virginia Republicans refuse to budge on Medicaid expansion. Virginia's Democratic governor is going around them.
Terry McAuliffe campaigns at an event in, Arlington, Virginia, November 3, 2013.
Terry McAuliffe campaigns at an event in, Arlington, Virginia, November 3, 2013.
When Virginia Republicans hatched an ugly scheme two weeks, arguably bribing a Democratic state senator in order to allow GOP control of the chamber, it had the intended effect. The state Senate that had been split evenly, 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, titled to the GOP, which proceeded to pass a conservative budget intended to kill Medicaid expansion in the state.
This was, of course, the one thing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) could not tolerate. The governor, who ran on a platform of Medicaid expansion last year, has said he cannot and will not approve a state budget without the policy, which would bring coverage to 400,000 low-income Virginians, boost the state's finances, and improve the state's short-term and long-term economy.
And so, when the Republican budget landed on the governor's desk, McAuliffe got creative.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed portions of the state budget Friday, setting Virginia up for a legal showdown with legislative Republicans who oppose his efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. McAuliffe exercised his line-item veto power to strike budget language that Republicans had hoped would block expansion of Medicaid.

The governor would have preferred to veto the entire budget, but with state finances expiring on July 1, such a veto likely would have shut down the state government.
Nevertheless, the fact that McAuliffe used his line-item veto power on Medicaid-related provisions will now go back to legislators, though there's simply no way the state Senate will have enough votes to override the governor on this.
Looking ahead, what's next? Quite a bit, actually.
For his part, McAuliffe has dropped not-so-subtle hints for weeks that he's prepared to embrace Medicaid expansion by somehow circumventing state lawmakers. And as the Washington Post's report made clear, the governor has become increasingly explicit about his intentions.
The governor said his Department of Health and Human Resources "will have a plan on my desk by no later than September, first detailing how we can move Virginia health care forward even in the face of the demagoguery, lies, fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for too long."
McAuliffe added that he's "very encouraged" and has "several options ... to provide health coverage to our citizens." He concluded, "We're moving forward."
I'm still a little fuzzy on how, exactly, this would work, but McAuliffe is clearly committed to the idea. And it's hard to blame him. I'm reminded once more Dahlia Lithwick's  powerful piece on this, making the case that she’s “pissed” because “there is no excuse, not one, to block the Medicaid expansion.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia is modeling dysfunction yet again this month, as the legislature fights to the death over Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed two-year, $97 billion budget. The government is imploding in large part due to the fact that state Republicans in the House of Delegates have decided to fight tooth and nail – up to and including shutting down the whole government if this is not resolved by July – to avoid expanding Medicaid benefits to cover up to 400,000 lower-income Virginians who fall into the health care coverage gap. These are the folks who can’t afford to purchase health care under the ACA, but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. The ACA would have taken care of those people through an expansion of Medicaid – money from the federal government to the states to cover the gap. The high court, in 2012, left it to the states to decide whether to accept the expansion. Virginia is one of the states having a hard time making up its mind. As with all government shutdowns, the answer to “why is this happening?” is “Republicans hate Obamacare.” […] Last week McAuliffe proposed a two-year pilot expansion of Medicaid, which could be canceled if it proved unsuccessful. This seemed very reasonable. The House Appropriations Committee killed it. So yesterday, in Richmond, both the Senate Finance Committee and the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission met to argue and vote about stuff. Republicans blamed Democrats. Democrats blamed Republicans. Everyone blamed gerrymandering and gridlock and ideology.

Dahlia added that without Medicaid expansion, it’s quite likely that some struggling Virginians will, in fact, die unnecessarily. She added that “the sheer nihilism on display in Richmond shows what happens when you convince yourself that government can fix nothing.”
Meanwhile, the Virginia Republicans who refuse to compromise or even consider the consequences of their obstinacy are apparently furious about the line-item veto, arguing that the governor misused his authority. From the Post's piece: "They note that courts have said that a governor can veto entire budget items, but not portions of those items. Since the language is part of a broader Medicaid budget item, Republicans say it is possible that McAuliffe cannot veto that portion without vetoing the state's entire Medicaid program."
A lawsuit appears likely.