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It's wrong to link implementation to budget

Date published: 3/22/2014

WHEN lawmakers from across the commonwealth return to Richmond on Monday for a special session of the General Assembly, two separate and distinct issues will be considered.

First, and most pressing, is the state's two-year, $95 billion budget. The General Assembly failed to pass a budget by the March 8 deadline, creating tremendous uncertainty. The second is whether or not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

Some in Richmond have tried to link the two issues. Gov. Terry McAuliffe and my Democratic colleagues refuse to pass a budget unless we implement Medicaid expansion, or some variation of it, in Virginia. Even though their plan does not call for any spending, produce any savings or affect the budget's bottom line, they inserted their Medicaid expansion plan into the budget in order to gain leverage, rather than submit a standalone bill.

My position on Medicaid expansion is clear. I believe we must reform the current program before we can consider expansion. Medicaid has grown by 1,600 percent over the last 30 years. Without expansion, Virginia is expected to spend an additional $1 billion over the next decade. That is simply unsustainable. Common sense says we must reform Medicaid first.

Even with reforms, I am skeptical of the federal government's ability to pay for expansion. Just as President Barack Obama promised you could keep your health care plan, he promises to pay for 90 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion forever. Considering the federal government is over $17 trillion in debt, it is only a matter of time before they break this promise too and shift more costs to the states.

I am also skeptical of alternative expansion schemes like the one proposed by the Senate. This proposal does not reform the current Medicaid program, still relies on borrowed federal money, and leaves us with more questions than answers on how it will actually work.

Both sides have articulated their position on Medicaid expansion. This is a vigorous and ongoing public debate. But regardless of how you feel on this issue, delaying the state budget over a separate and distinct policy matter is practically irresponsible and fundamentally the wrong way to govern.

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