COLONIAL HEIGHTS, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Republican leaders said Wednesday the momentum is in their favor in the battle with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers over whether to expand Medicaid eligibility.
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said growing public opinion agrees with the Republican position that lawmakers should pass a budget before debating Medicaid.
"That is an argument we think we're going to win," Cox said at a small rally and news conference in Colonial Heights. "Momentum is certainly on our side."
McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers want a budget that includes accepting federal Medicaid funds in exchange for expanding publicly financed health insurance to as many as 400,000 additional residents. Expanding Medicaid coverage is a key part Affordable Care Act.
The governor and his allies have argued Virginia cannot afford to forgo roughly $5 million a day in federal funds because of the Republican's political aversion to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. They have expressed equal optimism that the House will agree to a Senate version of the budget that includes expanded Medicaid eligibility.
The General Assembly adjourned Saturday without passing a roughly $96 billion two-year budget.
"House Republicans continue to put their tea party ideology first — isolating themselves from a bipartisan group of hospitals, chambers, business leaders, mayors, and Virginia families who are calling on us to act," Democratic Caucus Vice Chair Jennifer McClellan said in a statement.
But Cox noted at the news conference that even some advocates of expanding Medicaid still support the House Republican position of passing a budget first and holding a special session solely on the issue.
One of Virginia's largest newspapers, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, supports expanding Medicaid eligibility but published an editorial earlier this week accusing the governor and Senate Democrats of "holding the budget hostage."
Colonial Heights Mayor C. Scott Davis said the uncertainly surrounding the state's budget makes it difficult for his city to plan its budget.
And Cox said he fears state universities may increase tuition more than necessary because of a budget impasse. A House version of the budget has extra money devoted to reducing potential tuition increases.
But Jill Hanken, a staff attorney at the Virginia Poverty Law Center who attended the news conference, said she thinks momentum is building in favor of the Senate's version of a Medicaid expansion that emphasizes the use of private insurers. She said House Republicans are ignoring the hardships of the uninsured who would benefit from an expansion.
"Some of them are literally dying," she said.