Democrats, McAuliffe snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on Medicaid

Governor-McAuliffeRemember when Gov. Terry McAuliffe was riding high? That was, like, two months ago, maybe even a couple of weeks ago, back when there was widespread, bipartisan support for Medicaid expansion.

But then McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats bungled their way into seeing a majority of Virginia reverse their position on Medicaid, and now they face a strong headwind with the clock ticking toward the July 1 deadline for the General Assembly and governor to come to agreement on a two-year state budget.

It’s not that House Republicans have done really anything to turn the political tide in their favor. Both sides put on a handful of half-hearted press events at locations across the Commonwealth, including here in our backyard in Augusta County, to state the case for why they either support Medicaid expansion or why they oppose it.

House Republicans seem to have the weaker hand. The economy is improving, dare we say, strong, again, at least relative to the past four, five years, and it’s not hard for Democrats to make the case that expanding Medicaid now, when the state revenue picture is improving, makes long-term fiscal sense, by giving more working-class Virginians access to preventative healthcare who otherwise right now only access the health system in emergency situations, generally at the expense of taxpayers and hospitals.

But instead of playing that hand to their advantage, Democrats have done … nothing. Absolutely nothing. And while House Republicans aren’t doing anything to play their weaker hand, either, hey, Republicans have long since patented the strategy of doing nothing. Doing nothing, and in the process of pushing government to the brink of shutdown, is on the first page of the GOP playbook, and even if it doesn’t end up working for them politically, whatever, inaction, particularly on social issues, and social safety net policy issues, is their ultimate aim anyway.

And so it is that now a new Christopher Newport University poll has flipped the script from a February CNU poll that had a strong majority of Virginia voters and taxpayers supporting Medicaid expansion. The numbers in February were 56 percent for Medicaid expansion and 38 percent against; the new poll has 53 percent opposed and 41 percent in favor.

Getting inside the numbers, we see where the battle lines are drawn: a majority of white voters and voters with incomes of more than $50,000 a year oppose expansion, and a majority of African-American voters and those who earn less than $50,000 a year support expansion. Independents now strongly oppose, by a margin of 55 percent to 35 percent.

To put it bluntly, “Democrats are losing the debate on expanding Medicaid in Virginia,” said Dr. Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy, which conducted the polls.

“This is mostly because they are not convincing Independents that it will work. Voters seem to be moved by Republican skepticism. Significantly, even in the Democratic-friendly territory of Northern Virginia, support leads opposition by only 2 percent.”

That is maybe the biggest surprise: that only a plurality of Northern Virginia voters surveyed (49 percent to 47 percent) support Medicaid expansion.

It’s getting kind of late, too, for Democrats and McAuliffe to get things moving back in the direction they want. Political campaigns take time to strategize, develop and implement, and we’re two months, give or take, from the dropdown deadline that comes with July 1.

House Republicans, by doing nothing, have the upper hand; Democrats, by doing nothing, are about to snatch defeat from the jaws of what seemed two months ago not only to be victory, but a blowout win.

– Column by Chris Graham

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