McAuliffe tests executive power by unblocking Medicaid expansion, nixing judgeship funds

On Friday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe made his budget move.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A borderline-incensed Gov. Terry McAuliffe tested the limits of his gubernatorial power Friday by pulling the rug out from under the General Assembly-approved budget.

With just 10 days left in the fiscal year before the government shuts down without a budget, McAuliffe said he will sign the budget, but is vetoing seven portions of it. And some of those vetoes undermine the Republican-controlled Legislature’s greatest goal — rejecting not only Medicaid expansion, but the future possibility of expansion.

The governor vetoed an amendment that says Medicaid expansion can happen only through the legislative budgeting process, and with another strike of his pen, vetoed the authority of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, saying the executive branch will no longer assist the legislative group tasked last year with forging a path for Medicaid reforms.

“It is increasingly clear to me that the MIRC is clearly a sham,” the visibly angry governor told lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters Friday in Richmond, adding that even former Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli doubted MIRC’s authority.

The governor also vetoed all new money for judgeships that require confirmation from the General Assembly, saying he will not be thwarted out of his gubernatorial power. He also nixed all funding for the state’s new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council, saying the Legislature’s plan for ethics reform is too weak.

The governor touted that he has imposed a gift ban on himself and members of his family, failing to mention that gift cap expires after just one year, as Watchdog.org first reported. McAuliffe’s office hasn’t returned calls since January asking whether he will extend the executive order.

Since Republicans only barely control the Senate, and rejecting a governor’s veto requires two-thirds of the vote in both chambers, it’s likely McAuliffe will get his way, opening the door in the future for the governor to unilaterally expand the program.

“Let me be crystal clear,” McAuliffe said. “I am moving forward in health care for our Virginia citizens.”

McAuliffe, avoiding the use of the words Medicaid expansion outright, said he expects Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Hazel to have a plan on his desk for providing health care to Virginians by September.

Democrats are pleased with the governor’s tenacity, while Republicans call it an abuse of power.

“@GovernorVA just vetoed ALL new money for judgeships,” tweeted Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb. “Apparently he thinks we don’t need a legislature OR judiciary.”

“By taking this path, the governor has succeeded in denying 8.1 million Virginians a voice in the political process by usurping authority from the General Assembly, and he has poisoned the commonwealth’s political environment with his brazen actions,” said Sean Lansing, state director for the conservative Americans for Prosperity, in a statement. “In the weeks and months ahead, AFP will work tirelessly to ensure that the people of Virginia know their governor has chosen to stop at nothing to get his way — even if it means ruling like a king.”

McAuliffe also made other amendments to the General Assembly-approved budget, like nixing a multi-million-dollar renovation of the General Assembly building that Republicans in particular had pushed.

Republicans and Democrats have been fighting tooth and nail over Medicaid expansion for the last several months, with Democrats claiming Republicans are keeping hundreds of thousands from health care by not expanding the program, and Republicans claiming Democrats are holding the budget hostage and allowing the state government to potentially shut down.

The Virginia House of Delegates will reconvene at 5 p.m. Monday to decide what to do with the governor’s vetoes.

“As soon as we receive them, the House will review all of Governor McAuliffe’s vetoes on the budget bill passed by the General Assembly last week,” said Speaker of the House Bill Howell in a statement. “The Constitution and Supreme Court proscribe specific limits on the Governor’s line-item veto authority. We will review these vetoes to determine if they fall within the narrow scope of that authority, and once that review is complete the House will act accordingly.”

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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