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Round it goes / June 04, 2014
In keeping with the spirit of the moment, I swore I’d wait until the last minute to write about the failure of the General Assembly to enact a budget — the result of the Republican House and the Democratic-run Senate (and Democratic governor) butting heads over Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

I mean, with everyone in Richmond taking their sweet time to do what’s clearly necessary to preserve the state’s reputation for being well-run, why should yours truly be in any hurry?

The budget was supposed to be completed when the Assembly adjourned for business in March. Legislators failed in this basic task, and there’s one reason why: they couldn’t agree on whether Virginia should provide health coverage to struggling citizens, an estimated 400,000 of ‘em, despite the fact that doing so would have essentially no impact on state taxpayers. Oh, in addition to all that, Medicaid expansion would create jobs in the health care sector, it would help vulnerable rural hospitals such as the two that serve Mecklenburg County (Community Memorial Healthcenter and Halifax Regional Hospital), and it generally would bring the Commonwealth into line with the enlightened values of the 21st century. No wonder the issue has been so controversial.

It’s made sense to wait out the soap opera raging in Richmond because plainly the budget antagonists have been biding their time before one side or another caves. The conventional wisdom has held that everyone at the Capital would piddle around until the last moment and then act. I can identify.

But any confidence that this impasse will be settled by July 1 — the drop-dead date for the new fiscal year — must give way at some point to the reality that deadlines don’t mean much to dead-enders: if the entire point is to stand athwart history, yelling “stop,” what’s the big deal with letting extra seconds tick off the stopwatch? (The athwart-history reference, of course, belongs to the late conservative writer and Yale intellectual William F. Buckley, whose zest for resisting change has been passed down to the modern Republican Party. It’s hard to believe that even Buckley would be pleased by what his spawn are up to these days, however.)

Is it overly blunt to observe that the Republican position on this issue is morally bankrrupt, politically stupid, counter-productive, and cruel? Fortunately, not all conservatives have gone along with the irrationality that has infected the party — there are some prominent supporters of a private option Medicaid plan called “Marketplace Virginia” that has Senate backing. Yet the rest of the GOP seems determined to serve up arguments that are downright laughable, as typified by our own state senator, Frank Ruff, who regularly writes constituent columns giving an ever-changing list of reasons to justify his position. Ruff is the worst kind of career politician, the sort who thinks nothing of spewing half-truths and no-truths about Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act, while he collects payroll checks — and receives health insurance — on the taxpayer dime. With some of the dead-enders in Richmond, you can ascribe their opposition to genuine ideological fervor. Frank Ruff? Please. This marks the tenth anniversary of his vote in the State Senate to raise Virginia’s gas tax by more than 20 cents. Not exactly the type of behavior you’d expect out of a rock-ribbed conservative.

But this is classic Ruff: Whoever is calling the shots at the Capital — back in 2004, it was GOP moderates — has the voice he will parrot. In the current Tea Party-infused era, just give our Senator a tri-corner hat and his talking points and watch him go.

With the crazies driving the Republican position on Medicaid, Democrats paradoxically have little choice but to stick to their guns or else forfeit any opportunity to advance their priorities through the Assembly for the next three-plus years. (The old way of splitting the differences between parties, via horse-trading and each side taking something away from the deal, went out with the Reagan-Bush I era.) Our current governor, Terry McAuliffe, might be what some would call a political hack — but he’s not a fool: McAuliffe seems to understand that caving on Medicaid is not an option if he wants his gubernatorial tenure to amount to anything at all. So he’s been good about carrying the fight through.

It’s for those reasons that I don’t expect much to come out of the latest compromise offer, by State Senator Emmett Hanger, to split Medicaid expansion apart from the budget discussion and enact the House version. The catch for Republicans in the House is that they’re supposed to stand aside and let McAuliffe implement Medicaid expansion in the fall without their approval. Is that really all it takes to do a deal? Everyone pretending to get what they want when no one has any guarantee of getting what they want?

Somehow I don’t think we’ve reached double overtime yet in the Capital.

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