The Governor’s office teased a “major economic announcement” this week. If you’ve followed the debate on Medicaid expansion in Virginia, the Governor often speaks in terms of the significant, short-term economic benefits he believes would occur, while blissfully ignoring the long-term costs of expanding an entitlement program, if the Commonwealth expands Medicaid. Perhaps, this “major economic announcement” would be for his plan to unilaterally expand Medicaid. After all, Governor McAuliffe declared at a fiery press conference in June: “[l]et me be crystal clear: I am moving forward to get Virginians health care” He then “directed Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel to give him a plan by September 1 on ‘how we can move Virginia health care forward even in the face of the demagoguery, lies, fear and cowardice that have gripped this debate for too long.’”
Surely this “major economic announcement” would be the triumphant release of his plan to expand Medicaid. The announcement would be followed closely by the cheering of his base for fulfilling his campaign promise and sticking it to those he called liars, cowards, and demagogues in the legislature.
Imagine our surprise that the announcement related to the plan of Dominion Resources to jointly build a $5 billion dollar natural gas pipeline with other energy companies. Rather than engendering praise from his base, the wailing and gnashing of teeth from his liberal environmental activists, can be heard across the Commonwealth. One of the legislature’s most liberal members even tweeted under the hash tag “#hardtogetexcited” in response to the announcement.
Which brings us back to Medicaid expansion. It is now September 3, 2014. The Governor has not released his plan. I can’t recall a prior example of a politician setting a firm date for a specific action rising to the magnitude of the Medicaid expansion debate and that date then pass in silence. No announcement that he had received the requested report. No mention of his reviewing the report and considering his option. No scheduling of a press conference to announce next steps. Radio silence.
That has to be unnerving to his liberal base. After all, if Governor McAuliffe had a clear legal path to unilaterally expand Medicaid he surely would be trumpeting it. Especially to offset the negative reaction his base has had to the pipeline announcement. Perhaps, he has discovered that the language enacted by the legislature was more restrictive that he initially claimed and he is trying to decide how to spin that he won’t be able to expand Medicaid.