VA Medicaid move could set precedent


EXECUTIVE POWER: Some say Virginians should be wary of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s testing of executive power.

By Kathryn Watson | Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Now that the Virginia House of Delegates has blocked two of Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Medicaid-related vetoes, it’s a safe bet the courts will decide who has the legal upper hand — Republicans or McAuliffe.

The House of Delegates used parliamentary procedures Monday night to shoot down McAuliffe’s vetoes of the Medicaid Innovation and Innovation Reform and the so-called Stanley amendment, both of which ensured the future of Medicaid expansion was firmly in legislative — not executive — hands.

Still, McAuliffe has continued to make clear he’s prepared to use his executive authority as he sees fit to expand the government health care program for 400,000 more Virginians.

Republican lawmakers — and some editorial writers — wonder what kind of precedent he’s setting.

“Unfortunately, I think he’s taking a page out of what the president has been doing related to his actions, either by executive order or just by skirting or ignoring U.S. Constitution,” said Augusta Republican Delegate Steve Landes, who co-chairs the controversial Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which McAuliffe is trying to eliminate.

“I think, unfortunately, it would set a precedent similarly for Virginia,” Landes said. “Hopefully, future governors would follow the state constitution and their authority. But it’s the Legislature’s job to make sure we are the check and balance in the system, along with the judiciary, that no governor, no executive, goes beyond their power.”

Editorial pages took up a similar concern.

“To fret about the paperwork may seem cramped and uncaring; on the other hand, we have checks and balances in government for a reason, even if we don’t always like the outcome they produce,” a Tuesday Roanoke Times editorial said. “Democrats may cheer McAuliffe now, but someday could rue the precedent if a future Republican governor can’t get his way with the legislature.”

Even the Washington Post, which has staunchly supported Medicaid expansion for months in its editorial pages, has cautioned the governor on taking things into his own hands.

“Perhaps there is a sensible and legal way for him to push through a coverage expansion in line with what the Affordable Care Act envisioned for Virginia, respectful of the prerogatives of the General Assembly,” the Washington Post editorial reads. “But much as we support the goal of wider coverage, we’re skeptical about the prospect of unilateral action.”

Delegate Tom Rust, a moderate Republican who has voted in support of Medicaid expansion, said he hopes the governor will still try to work legislatively.

I would hope that the governor would rethink his position and call a special session of the Legislature, actually call it set a date in a couple of months. Let us all bring our ideas together,” Rust told “… I think he should let the legislative process work.

McAuliffe also accuses Republicans of skirting the process by procedurally knocking down his vetoes.

The governor said he is “continually surprised and disappointed by the lengths to which Republicans in the House of Delegates will go to prevent their own constituents from getting access to health care. Instead of putting all of my vetoes through the process prescribed by the Constitution of Virginia, House Republicans robbed the voters of their choice by using a procedural gimmick to obstruct the normal legislative process where this veto was concerned.”

One thing is clear — The harder McAuliffe pushes for expansion by skirting the Legislature the less success he will have legislatively in the future.

“I do think, if he tries to move forward, it will probably sour his relationship with the General Assembly,” Landes said.

The House of Delegates is safely in Republican control, and the empty seat left by the resignation of Senate Democrat Phil Puckett virtually means the Senate will likely remain in GOP control, as well. If Republicans control both chambers, McAuliffe’s chances of accomplishing much through the legislative process are slim.

“At that point, I think he would be a lame duck governor,” Landes told

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter with, and can be reached at, or on Twitter @kathrynw5.