New Virginia Governor Issues Ultimatum over Medicaid Expansion

January 21, 2014

Gov. Terry McAuliffe intends to wrest the power to expand Medicaid away from a legislative commission and put it in his own hands, one of several moves threatening to undermine the new governor’s courtship of the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

McAuliffe (D) announced Monday that he will seek that authority through a proposed budget amendment if the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission does not agree within the next 60 days to enroll 400,000 more Virginians into the federal-state health-care program for the poor. Republicans flatly opposed his proposal on policy grounds and procedural ones: The governor does not have the right, they said, to propose amendments this early in the process.

“It doesn’t help when the governor continually does things of this nature,” House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said when asked whether the proposal would have a bearing on bipartisan cooperation.

McAuliffe devoted the nine weeks between Election Day and his inauguration to ardently wooing Republicans with moderate Cabinet picks, face-to-face meetings and lavish praise for the outgoing GOP governor, Robert F. McDonnell.

But he spent his first week on the job antagonizing a good number of them. Republicans who had initially succumbed to McAuliffe’s charm offensive were already bristling at his liberal rhetoric, planning to squash one of his political appointments and recoiling from his strong push for Medicaid expansion.

Some Republicans were put off by how strongly McAuliffe played up his stances on gay rights, abortion rights and immigration in two major addresses and in his inaugural parade. They were angry that he appointed Boyd Marcus, a Republican who backed him in the campaign, to a six-figure patronage job — and amazed that he would characterize the pick as an olive branch to the GOP.

And Republicans were taken aback by his forceful approach on Medicaid. McAuliffe announced in a speech last week that he wants the committee holding the keys to Medicaid expansion to wrap up its work this session. On Monday, he made it clear that he intends to take expansion power away from that panel and give it to himself if it doesn’t sign off.

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