The House and Senate budgets were debated and ultimately passed yesterday. Budgets are about choices, and the budget that passed the House reflected a choice that Republicans made to reject the expansion of Medicaid coverage to over 275,000 Virginians. In a last minute procedural move, the Republicans offered the Senate plan for Medicaid expansion, the so-called “private option,” as an amendment in order to get a vote on this issue. It was largely a symbolic vote because leadership asked their caucus members to vote as a block. The Medicaid initiative was therefore defeated in the House. It survives in the Senate budget, however, so this issue is anything but dead.
Some interesting contrasts arose in the budget debate. For weeks, a number of us have been arguing that hospitals will experience serious financial losses if we do not expand Medicaid. In response, House Republicans increased appropriations to hospitals by over $100 million. While this appropriation does not approach the shortfall to the hospitals, which is projected at $448 million in 2015, the money nonetheless had to come from somewhere. It was transferred from other parts of the budget, most notably funding for job creation and economic development. House Democrats argued against these transfers: why not help the hospitals by simply expanding Medicaid?
The House Republican leadership also supported a $300 million initiative to provide the General Assembly members with new office space. Independent of the problems of the building in terms of its air quality and structural soundness, citizens justifiably find it difficult to understand how members can spend $300 million on a new building but be unwilling to use federal dollars to help insure those most in need.
Because of its failure to include Medicaid expansion, I voted against the House budget. For those of you who have any interest in viewing some of my floor speeches on the importance of expanding Medicaid you can watch them on YouTube.
My Telephone Town Hall meeting on Wednesday night was a great success. We had several thousand listeners on the call, despite the fact that we were competing with the public hearing on the 29 Bypass back at home. During the Town Hall meeting, we conducted several instant polls on a variety of issues, from Medicaid to Standards of Learning (SOL) reform. The results were not surprising. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said they support Medicaid expansion, while seventeen percent said they wanted reforms in place before the expansion occurred. And sixty-five percent said they would not support building new offices for the General Assembly unless Medicaid reform was adopted. Sixty-eight percent supported the elimination of certain high-stakes testing as part of SOL reform. Finally, sixty percent said that they were willing to pay a little more on their utility bill if they knew that electricity was being generated through the use of more solar power.
As always, I enjoy hearing from you during the assembly session with your concerns and views about specific bills. This year, Session is scheduled to adjourn March 8, 2014. Please do not hesitate to contact my office. It is a pleasure serving you in the General Assembly.