Child’s play: Virginia’s lawmakers throw a tantrum, then take a time out

Virginia's Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo. Virginia’s Capitol Building in Richmond. File photo.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, bi-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

There are times when even we—who have observed the absurd theatrics of Virginia’s General Assembly for longer than we’d care to admit—are stunned by the level of immaturity and asinine behavior exhibited in our state capital. This, without a doubt, is one of those times.

In case you’ve had better things to do (and for your sake, we hope you have), here’s where we stand: Having adjourned without passing a budget during its regular annual session, the Assembly was called back into special session by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The main sticking point was the governor’s push to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program, using funds allocated by the federal government under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

During the regular session, the Democrat-controlled Senate had tried to advance McAuliffe’s goals by introducing a “private option” plan they called Marketplace Virginia, under which the federal funds would be used to purchase private insurance for low-income individuals. Although this compromise had managed to garner a handful of GOP votes in the Senate, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates summarily dismissed it, leading to the current impasse.

To the surprise of many, Gov. McAuliffe kicked off the special session by introducing a revised budget that eschewed the private option for his original goal of full Medicaid expansion (albeit as a “pilot program” that could be ended after two years without incurring any financial penalties for the commonwealth). What’s more, he promised to use the projected savings to increase wages for state employees and teachers, expand pre-kindergarten programs, and help shore up the Virginia Retirement System, among other things.

This new proposal set off a frenzy of bickering and infighting, with the entire first day of the special session wasted on an argument over which budget—McAuliffe’s or one proposed by the House Appropriations Committee chairman—should serve as the starting point for budget negotiations.

On the second day of the special session, the ongoing drama turned into straight-up farce. The state Senate, claiming to need time to study McAuliffe’s proposals, decided to adjourn until April 7. The house, on the other hand, went into full-on theatrics mode. The Republican majority passed their own budget (devoid of any mention of Medicaid, natch), marched over to the Senate offices and posted a “Gone Home” sign on the door whilst cheering like a pack of drunken frat boys. Then they went home.

Oh yeah—a number of delegates also promised not to shave until a state budget was signed into law.

It’s this sort of unprofessional, childish behavior that makes the possibility of a July 1 state government shutdown seem ever more likely. In the meantime, Virginia is forfeiting around five million dollars a day in federal Medicaid funds and, according to an analysis recently published in the well-respected journal Health Affairs, effectively denying almost 300,000 Virginians access to decent health care (while, in the process, failing to prevent between 266 and 987 unnecessary deaths per year).

But keep growing those beards, Republican delegates. You can use them to cover your smirks while thousands of your fellow Virginians needlessly suffer and die.