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Virginia Hasn't Learned Anything From Last Year's Government Shutdown Virginia Hasn't Learned Anything From Last Year's Government Shutdown

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Politics

Virginia Hasn't Learned Anything From Last Year's Government Shutdown

The commonwealth's current budget impasse centers around Medicaid expansion.

(Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

photo of Elahe Izadi
April 16, 2014

In 2013, the federal government shut down over what was essentially a divide in Washington over Obamacare.

In 2014, the same could happen in Virginia.

On Tuesday, the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate passed a $96 billion budget that included a provision in which the state would accept federal funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income Virginians. That prompted the Republican-controlled House of Delegates to reject the spending plan.

 

Unless Virginia gets its act together by July 1, the state government could shut down—which is pretty remarkable, given how poorly Virginians viewed the federal government shutdown of 2013 over Obamacare. The commonwealth is home to many federal employees, and the timing of the federal shutdown—just weeks before the gubernatorial race—was largely seen as hurting the Republican candidate, former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. This, despite Cuccinelli rejecting the tactic: "Holding one part of government hostage to another part, I don't think is a proper way to govern," he said then.

Now back to current-day Virginia, where both sides don't show any signs of budging. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe convened a special session so lawmakers could hammer out a budget. Two weeks later, and they've all left Richmond no closer to a deal. Democrats are blaming Republicans, and Republicans are blaming Democrats for their unwillingness to back down from the expansion.

McAuliffe made Medicaid expansion a central tenant of his 2013 campaign, and even back then he was faced with the prospect of a government shutdown over it.

Republicans are now dragging Democratic Sen. Mark Warner into the mix, asking him to reach out to McAuliffe to avoid a shutdown. That's notable given that Warner, a moderate Democrat, faces reelection later this year. Warner urged the Republicans to work toward a bipartisan solution.

So will the government shut down in Virginia? Well, for all the bragging that state officials tend to do about how they always pass balanced budgets and get their work done, such an impasse isn't all that rare. For instance, last summer, legislators in Washington states faced the prospect of a shutdown and laying off thousands of employees amid squabbling over taxes and things such as how much fish Washingtonians consume. In 2012, Maryland officials had to come together in a special session and passed a last-minute "doomsday" budget. And so on.

Virginia will eventually come to a resolution—just like the federal government did in the fall of 2013. But will Virginia turn off the lights in the process, just as the federal government did? We'll just have to wait and see how this episode plays out.

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