Report: Va. Dems to cave on Medicaid expansion

The resignation of Sen. Phil Puckett tipped control of the chamber to Republican hands, and the Washington Post reports they\'re not wasting any time. (Courtesy Philip Puckett\'s office)

WASHINGTON — With Virginia Sen. Phil Puckett’s resignation on Sunday tipping control of the chamber, state Republicans didn’t waste any time.

The Washington Post reports that Republicans on Monday have forced Democrats to agree to pass a state budget without accepting the federal government’s offer of a Medicaid expansion, dealing a blow to one of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature initiatives.

Democratic budget negotiators came out of a meeting Monday and said that they had agreed to pass an expansion-free budget, avoiding a state government shutdown that would happen July 1 without an agreement. They still hope to take up a Medicaid expansion proposal in a special session, the Post says.

Puckett resigned on Sunday, and on Monday took himself out of the running for a job as deputy director of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which Puckett’s fellow Democrats claimed he traded his seat, and control of the Senate, for.

Puckett did say that he was resigning in part to clear the way for his daughter to take a post as a juvenile court judge. The Senate has a policy against seating judges who are the relatives of sitting members, the Post says.

Sen. Richard Saslaw, a Democrat from Fairfax, told the Post that there was no job-for-resignation deal in place: “There never was any deal, OK?”

But Republican Delegate Terry Kilgore, chairman of the tobacco commission, told the Post Puckett might have had the job as early as Wednesday.

Puckett will be replaced by a special election, the date of which has not been set.

The Obama administration has offered to pay most of the costs of expanding Medicaid in states that choose to do so, but Republicans have argued that states would be saddled with the cost if the federal government can’t keep its promise.

With Democrats controlling the Senate through the lieutenant governor’s tie-breaking vote and Republicans running the state House, the state appeared headed toward a government shutdown on July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

On Monday, all 20 Republican senators along with Senate Finance Co-Chairman Sen. Chuck Colgan, a Democrat, signed a letter ordering the full Senate to return Thursday to work out a budget. After that letter was filed, House Speaker William J. Howell scheduled for the House to return the same day.

After members of the Senate Finance Committee met Monday, committee Co-Chairman Walter Stosch said he believed there were enough votes for the Senate to pass a budget that does not include Marketplace Virginia, the Senate’s modified version of Medicaid expansion.

“We’re hoping we can pass a clean budget that does not have Marketplace Virginia in it, not that we’ve lost interest in that,” said Stosch, who is one of three Republican senators who support the expanded coverage plan.

Stosch and other senators who support Marketplace Virginia said a recent forecast projecting a $1.3 billion budget deficit over the next two years has forced lawmakers to make passing a budget their top priority.

Colgan said he would like to pass a state budget without expanding Medicaid eligibility and revisit the issue in a special session. Colgan said he “would love” some assurances that Medicaid expansion would pass during a special session, which would be unlikely given the strong Republican majority in the House.

House Republicans have promised a fair hearing on Medicaid expansion if there were a special session, but the lower chamber has already voted against Medicaid expansion proposals twice this year.

A spokesman for McAuliffe declined to comment until the governor’s office had seen what the Senate’ plans were.

The liberal group ProgressVA, which supports Medicaid expansion, called on authorities to investigate whether Puckett has engaged in an illegal quid pro quo. And House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles compared Puckett’s behavior to former Gov. Bob McDonnell, who is awaiting trial on corruption charges.

As for Puckett’s daughter, Martha Ketron, Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norment said he did not know when, or whether, the Senate would approve her to the bench.

Norment added that he did not see anything unethical in Puckett’s behavior.

“It is unkind for people to suggest that,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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