WashPost: GOP Outmaneuvers Va. Gov. McAuliffe in Medicaid Showdown

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 10:56 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s plan to join the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare hangs in the balance after a Democratic state senator was apparently persuaded to resign by the GOP, breaking a budget deadlock.

The Republican-controlled House in the state had passed a budget without including funds for an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, while the Senate had passed a budget that would give health coverage to an extra 400,000 low-income earners, according to Vox.

However, the Senate is split between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, with the lieutenant governor, a Democrat, being the tie-breaking vote. But the GOP has outsmarted the Democrats by making state Sen. Phillip Puckett an offer he couldn’t refuse, The Washington Post reported.

The Democratic senator will be made state deputy director of the state tobacco commission while his daughter, Martha Puckett Ketron, will be given a permanent judgeship.

She’s currently on the bench, serving in a temporary position as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge. The Senate has been blocking her permanent status due to rules against appointing relatives of current legislators to the bench full time.

Without hesitation over handing power in the Senate to the GOP by 20-19 votes, Puckett has jumped at the job offer, and he was planning to announce his resignation on Monday, effective immediately, said the Post.

Puckett, who has been a senator for 16 years, did not return calls for comment while Republicans have denied that it offered the position in exchange for his resignation, the newspaper said.

The move caused an outpouring of anger from Democrats who accuse the GOP of bribery to control the Senate in the short term and defeat any budget proposal that includes Medicaid expansion funding.

"It’s astounding to me," said Democratic delegate Scott Surovel. "The House Republican caucus will do anything and everything to prevent low-income Virginians from getting healthcare.

"They figure the only way they could win was to give a job to a state senator. At least they can’t offer Terry McAuliffe a job. I hope Terry continues to stand up to these bullies."

McAuliffe is unwilling to pass a budget without Medicaid expansion, and could resort to an executive order to push it through. Alternatively, if he does not sign off on a budget, Virginia faces its first government shutdown in the state’s history.

"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 healthcare, especially those in southwest Virginia," McAuliffe said. "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."

After Puckett resigns, Senate Republicans can quickly get lawmakers to pass a budget without the expansion.

Virginia is one of 24 states that has opted not expand their Medicaid program under President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform law.

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