Walter Stosch

Will Session End On Time?

When the House of Delegates and Senate passed their respective budgets several days ago, the most glaring difference between the two, as anticipated, was the two chambers' approaches to Medicaid expansion. To wit, Obamacare in Virginia. The Senate included expanding Obamacare in its budget despite agreement last year with the House that the issue would be kept separate from the budget so it wouldn't become a stumbling block to passing a future budget. The agreement consisted of the creation of the Medicaid Innovation and Reform Commission, which has the authority to make recommendations to the General Assembly concerning expansion. Its charter is to formulate necessary reforms for the abuse- and fraud-ridden program that state and federal governments must accept before Medicaid expansion gets anywhere near a floor vote for approval.

MIRC has yet, after almost a year's work, to draft its recommendations for reform. Instead, it continued its efforts for another year. Despite last year's agreement and MIRC's continuation, three Senate Republicans — John WatkinsWalter Stosch and Emmett Hanger — joined all 20 Democrats to passing the Senate budget with Medicaid expansion in it. The Senate and Governor Terry McAuliffe want to backtrack on last year's arrangement and want Obamacare expanded immediately.

To emphasize its position, House Republicans offered a budget floor amendment, modeled after the Senate expansion plan. It promptly went down 67-32. House Republicans have maintained that it would be irresponsible to expand Obamacare because future costs would be so great that it could cripple the state budget.

They also argue that the program is wrought with inefficiency and fraud and have proposed a first-ever outside audit before any expansion can take place. By example, former Governor Tim Kaine refused a VDOT audit for his four years and closed rest stops and other unnecessary cuts. After he left office, the audit House Republicans sought finally took place and revealed more than $1 billion in waste. There's no telling how much waste an audit of Medicaid would uncover since it is much larger than VDOT — about 21 percent of Virginia's budget and growing fast.

Most insiders in Richmond believe that the battle over Obamacare expansion will leave the state without a budget well into spring, if not longer. A new budget must be adopted by June 30 or state government could theoretically "shut down" July 1. Governor McAuliffe has stated that he intends to veto any budget sent to him that does not include Obamcare expansion and willingly shut down state government in order to get his way — not this session's much referenced, bipartisan-and-honor-your-agreements buzz phrase, "Virginia Way." That means police and fire departments without funding, teachers without pay and roads unpaved, among other disruptions.

A few days after the House passed its budget, reports surfaced that that Governor McAuliffe threatened vetoes of legislators' unrelated bills if they didn't go along with expansion,  something his office quickly denied. But delegates took to the floor later to recount the governor's bullying tactics and threats.

The House and Senate remain in conference in an attempt to settle their budget differences. But if conferees cannot come up with a solution before March 8, the General Assembly will have to adjourn without a budget — an unprecedented scenario that is growing more likely by the hour during this last week of session. Also, should a budget not pass, or a budget pass without the continuation of the MIRC, some believe that the governor will unilaterally expand Obamacare. That action could result in litigation, leaving it up to Attorney General Mark Herring to choose sides on the issue.

If it all sounds like Washington style politics and not "The Virginia Way," you're right. It's what many predicted during the campaign if Governor McAuliffe was elected. Be prepared to watch this battle go on well into the spring, and beyond.

Virginia, and "The Virginia Way," isn't for shutdowns. But it may come to that. 

What Exactly Does The Family Foundation Do During Session?

We're too busy to know ourselves, sometimes. Where does the time go? It's as if that 7:00 a.m. sub-committee ended only an hour ago . . . and it's already 8:oo p.m.? And I still have an hour's work to do? Really, it seems the mace was carried into the House chamber to open session just a couple of weeks ago. It's mid-March already? What happened to the snow and the Courts of Justice docket? I'm still seeing bill numbers and unattributed opponents' talking points in my sleep, thank you very much HB 652. Enough already of the stream of consciousness . . . besides, thanks to one of our interns this year, Drew Wingard, we have a documentary about the day in the life of The Family Foundation during session. It pretty much captures the crazy pace of the first two months of the year, every year. We think you will enjoy this video very much. Remarkably, it was the first time Drew ever picked up a camera or used a Mac editing program. In it, you'll see all of your FF favorites: Victoria, Chris, Jessica, Marie, your humble Admin (although a great ad lib of mine was unceremoniously cut), Roger, Dale and Dan's door. You'll also see some cameos — Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Henrico) and former Attorney General and newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims, among them.

A day in the life of The Family Foundation during General Assembly session — it's no life!

New Gang Of Five In Virginia Senate?

Is there a new Senate "Gang of Five"? J. Scott Leake thinks so. Mr. Leake should know. He was a top insider to the leadership of the "moderate" Republicans who held sway during the years of GOP control of that chamber. The five were: now retired President Pro Tem John Chichester, then-Majority Leader Walter Stosch, then-senator and current Virginia Beach Sheriff Ken Stolle, and Senators Tommy Norment and William Wampler. Nothing happened in the Senate unless they decided it would. Now, in his General Assembly Grapevine for Bacon's Rebellion, Mr. Leake, who also is the director of government and public affairs at the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, writes that the Senate Democrat majority has a developed a "Gang of Five" of its own: President Pro Tem Charles Colgan, and Senators Roscoe Reynolds, John Miller (a freshman, no less), Phil Puckett and — be sure you're sitting for this — Creigh Deeds. Far from controlling the entire agenda, as the GOP gang did, this one appears to be an alliance certain for budget negotiations only, keeping the rest of their caucus from dragging them into electoral oblivion — Colgan and Miller are D's who represent very Republican areas, while Puckett and Reynolds represent rural and small town areas that easily could swing to the GOP, a fact that has each constantly looking over their shoulders. Deeds, Leake says, has a range of constituents which prompts an unpredictable populist streak.

Increasing the intrigue is the fact that many Senate Dems want to use the budget submitted by former Governor Tim Kaine as the basis for their proposal. But that budget includes reinstating the car tax. The senators above have constituents who would be hurt financially should the car tax be reinstated, an issue within the Democrat caucus. Senator Deeds, according to Leake, now is acutely aware of the repercussions of campaigning on a record of higher taxes.

All this dovetails into the rumors swirling around Capitol Square that other factions within the Senate Democrat caucus are making life dysfunctional for that group, namely Senate members of the Legislative Black Caucus who have their own budget demands. If there truly is all this discord within the majority, it may take more than a gang to sort things out. Or at least a heavily armed gang. Time will tell if this new gang has the clout, or the political arsenal, to whip their colleagues into line.