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Virginia Democrats hit the road as budget deadline looms

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is exploring ways to expand Medicaid -- with or without legislative approval.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is exploring ways to expand Medicaid -- with or without legislative approval.
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

While two key Senate Democrats go on vacation this month, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is pressing his plan to expand Medicaid in Virginia. The Democrat could get help from a letter by former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, is spending several days in California, starting Saturday. Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, will be in South Africa until June 24.

Aggressive GOP leadership could take control of the chamber and pass a revised budget that conforms with the House plan, which contains no outlays for Medicaid expansion.

But even with Howell, a budget conferee, leaving the country for three weeks, moderate Republicans — led by Sens. Walter Stosch, Emmett Hanger and John Watkins — appear disinclined to act.

Facing a July 1 budget deadline, McAuliffe isn’t waiting. He’s reportedly looking to unilaterally expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians by executive order.

He may not have to search much further than a March 2013 letter by McDonnell. Reported by Watchdog earlier this year, McDonnell’s letter declares: “As governor … the decision currently rests with me on whether or not to expand (Medicaid).”

The governor is preparing for expansion,” said Craig DiSesa, who heads Middle Resolution, a group opposing MedEx.

“Will he try to expand by executive fiat? If he thinks he can, he definitely will,” DiSesa added.

Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring believes McAuliffe wants legislative support.

“The attorney general agrees that is the best path forward,” said Herring spokesman Michael Kelly.

House leaders maintain that authority for expansion lies with the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission. The bipartisan panel has recommended MedEx be handled separately from the current budget.

“The MIRC language is solid. The House Republicans are ready to fight any attempt by the governor to expand without their approval,” DiSesa told Watchdog.

A Chmura Economics & Analytics study estimates the cost of expanding Virginia Medicaid “is nearly four times larger” than opting out, “at least in the 2014-2019 time frame.”