RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Terry McAuliffe vowed Friday to bypass the General Assembly and expand Medicaid eligibility for about 400,000 low-income residents on his own.
The Democratic governor said his staff has begun working with the federal government, insurance plans, hospitals and other groups on how to expand health care coverage for the poor, absent approval from state lawmakers.
"Let me be crystal clear, I am moving forward to get health care for Virginian citizens," McAuliffe said at news conference at the capitol.
McAuliffe had tried unsuccessfully for months to persuade Republican state lawmakers to approve some form of Medicaid expansion. But he said Friday he had "no illusions" that Republicans were interested in compromising on the issue.
"They have turned their back, time and time again," McAuliffe said.
He said he's ordered Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. William A. Hazel Jr. to present a plan no later than Sept. 1 on "how we move forward with health care in the face of the demagoguery, the lies, the fear and the cowardice that have gripped this debate for far too long."
McAuliffe said he believes there are number of ways he can legally expand Medicaid without the General Assembly's approval. But leaders of the GOP-controlled House responded Friday that McAuliffe's does not have that power and they are prepared to fight.
"The governor's attempt to usurp the constitutionally proscribed powers of the legislative branch is a dangerous threat to the rule of law, separation of powers, and foundation of representative democracy that we simply cannot allow," House Republican leaders, including House Speaker William J. Howell, said in a statement.
The battle over Medicaid expansion led to a months-long impasse over the budget that threatened a potential state government shutdown. The impasse was broken when a Democratic state senator abruptly resigned, giving Republicans control of both chambers in the General Assembly.
McAuliffe said Friday that he will sign the budget, but with several vetoes, among them an amendment to the budget inserted by conservative Republicans that was aimed at ensuring the Democratic governor could not expand Medicaid without legislative approval.
The governor also announced that he plans on blocking funding for a planned $300 million renovation of the Capitol complex that includes lawmakers' offices.