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

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

A 'sorry we are closed' sign is displayed in the window of the Patio Cafe on February 4, 2010 in Becontree, England. As the UK gears up for one of the most hotly contested general elections in recent history it is expected that that the economy, immigration, the NHS and education are likely to form the basis of many of the debates.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
April 16, 2014, 6:44 a.m.

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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