(AP) The top Republican in the Virginia Senate pledged Monday that a long-simmering and unresolved fight over Medicaid expansion won’t lead to a state government shutdown. But Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment didn’t say how the dispute will be resolved.
Norment said at a committee hearing Monday that it would be “unacceptable” and “untenable” for lawmakers not to pass a state spending plan before the end of the fiscal year.
“There will be a timely biennium state budget before June 30th,” Norment said. “There will be a budget.”
He did not make any promises on whether the budget would include Medicaid expansion.
The GOP-led General Assembly has been split for months on whether to include expansion in the state budget. Lawmakers adjourned their regular legislative session earlier this year without passing a spending plan and state government will shut down on July 1 without one.
Norment opposes expanding the publicly funded health care program for the poor, but promised a constructive debate in coming days as the Senate reconvenes to work on a budget.
Medicaid is a federal-state collaboration that’s become the largest government health insurance program. Under former President Barack Obama’s health law, states had the option of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. Most states did, but Virginia Republicans blocked expansion for years over concerns of unsustainable long-term costs.
But many Republicans switched positions this year, in part because a GOP-led Congress has been unable to repeal Obama’s health care law.
A majority of state lawmakers in both chambers now support Medicaid expansion. But there are key differences among pro-expansion lawmakers on what the program should look like, including whether there should be a related new tax on hospitals.
Democrats and some Republicans have criticized Norment for not moving faster on getting a budget discussions started.
Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin said the Senate has been “way too slow” in its budget work and said anti-expansion lawmakers are just trying to delay the inevitable.
“It’s pretty clear where the votes are,” Ebbin said.
The House approved a budget that included Medicaid expansion last month. The Senate began its official deliberations on that budget Monday with a presentation on the state’s finances from Secretary of Commerce Aubrey Layne, who stressed the need for Virginia to replenish its rainy day fund.
The Senate Finance Committee will continue budget work Tuesday and the full Senate is scheduled to reconvene May 22.
-ALAN SUDERMAN, Associated Press