Augusta Free Press

House Republican leaders write to Sen. Mark Warner on state budget impasse

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), Caucus Chairman Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax) and Majority Whip Jackson Miller (R-Manassas) sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner urging the senator to denounce Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to hold the state budget hostage to Medicaid expansion.

Warner spoke forcefully against the federal government shutdown and the tactics employed in Washington last year. He said that Virginians had a right to be “mad as hell” and that threatening a government shutdown was “not the way you govern.” Senator Warner also said “We cannot allow ideological issues to stop us from funding the basic operations of the government.”

McAuliffe and General Assembly Democrats are now using the exact same tactic, threatening to shutdown state government unless Obamacare is expanded in Virginia. In the letter, House leadership urges Senator Warner to reach out to Governor McAuliffe and help end the current impasse over the budget.

The letter:

Dear Senator Warner:

As you know, the Virginia General Assembly adjourned on March 8 without completing the state budget for the 2014-2016 biennium that begins on July 1. Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Democrat-controlled Senate refuse to pass a budget unless it includes Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. If the General Assembly fails to act, state government could shut down on July 1.

The current situation in Virginia is very similar to the fight over the federal government shutdown last fall. You no doubt recall that some in Washington used the threat of a federal government shutdown in an attempt to defund and delay the Affordable Care Act.

At the time, you spoke out forcefully against this tactic and the shutdown itself. You said that Virginians had a right to be “mad as hell” about the shutdown, called using the federal budget as leverage “irresponsible” and said “we can have disagreements, but you shouldn’t threaten to shut down the government.” You also said: “We cannot allow ideological issues to stop us from funding the basic operations of the government.”

You said the House threat to shut down the federal government in order to gain leverage over the Affordable Care Act “would be like the Democratic Senate sending back to the House something that says, ‘Unless you pass our immigration bill, we’re going to shut down the government,’” adding “that’s not the way you govern.”

Unfortunately, Governor McAuliffe and other Democrats are using the exact same tactic in the Commonwealth, threatening a state government shutdown unless Obamacare is expanded in Virginia. Rather than submit a stand-alone bill that can be debated on its merits, they have included their Medicaid expansion plan in the state budget. Senator Dick Saslaw has said on multiple occasions that the Senate will not pass a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion. The Senator has also openly admitted that Democrats are using the budget as a bargaining chip.

If it was wrong to use the threat of a federal government shutdown as a bargaining chip last fall, then it is certainly wrong to use the threat of a state government shutdown as a bargaining chip now. You are correct that holding up the operations of government over a stand-alone issue like healthcare or immigration is fundamentally the wrong way to govern.

Passing the state budget is the General Assembly’s most important obligation. As a former Governor, you undoubtedly understand that failing to pass a budget would have drastic consequences for the Commonwealth. The current delay over the state budget is already creating tremendous uncertainty for local governments, school boards, institutions of higher education and the business community, as well as threatening the state’s prestigious AAA bond rating.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on Obamacare. The House of Delegates and the Governor disagree on Medicaid expansion. As you said, “we can have disagreements,” but those disagreements should not lead to a government shutdown. Regardless of how one feels about the Affordable Care Act, we should all agree that the core functions of government are simply too important to be used as bargaining chips. Our teachers, firefighters, police officers and local governments do not deserve to be held hostage to a separate and distinct policy debate like Medicaid expansion.

We write today to urge you to reach out to Governor McAuliffe and let him know you agree with us that threatening a government shutdown over a single issue is wrong. Please express to the Governor that as it was irresponsible to play politics with the operations of the federal government last fall, it is likewise irresponsible for him and the Senate to play politics with the operations of state government now.

Sincerely,

William J. Howell
M. Kirkland “Kirk” Cox
Timothy D. Hugo
Jackson H. Miller