Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Senate Finance Committee: Fireworks, Sort of a Budget, and Another Delay

There were all sorts of fireworks this morning in the Senate Finance Committee. We knew there were not enough votes in this committee to get a budget that included Medicaid expansion passed. Without the committee voting a budget through, there would be nothing for the full Senate to consider. We know there are enough votes on the floor of the Senate to pass a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, but if a budget doesn't get to the floor, the vote can't happen.

Senator Tommy Norment, the Senate Majority leader opposes Medicaid expansion and has lost some members of his caucus to the other side of the Medicaid fight. He does not want a vote on Medicaid expansion on the floor as he will lose. That is the bottom line in this entire debate.

Today the Senate Finance Committee took up the budget compromise that has been worked out with the House of Delegates. Keep in mind that the House has already passed a budget that includes Medicaid expansion, so the compromise budget the committee was considering expanded Medicaid. There was a different budget proposed today by Senator Norment. It did not expand Medicaid and, therefore, did not make the investments in Virginia that could not be afforded with the additional revenues available with expansion.

As expected, the committee rejected the compromise budget and approved Senator's Norment's budget. No worries, as we know they will amend the budget on the floor when they finally take it up. They have the votes to do that. The 19 Democrats will vote for expansion as will Senators Hanger and Wagner. We are also hearing rumor that Senator Chafin may vote yes. We needed a budget, any budget, on the floor of the Senate for us to progress towards an adopted state budget, and that happened today.

There were fireworks, though. After Senator Norment's non-Medicaid budget passed in committee he asked that the vote on the compromise budget be reconsidered. At first here was some confused looks by committee members and when asked why he wanted to vote reconsidered Senator Norment said, "I will make my motivation known after we agree to reconsider the vote." Luckily Senator Saslaw knows the Senate rules and knew that if a bill is considered and rejected twice in committee there are road blocks to getting it to the floor. It was Norment's last attempt to kill Medicaid expansion. Senator Hanger abruptly adjourned the committee before Senator Norment could get a second vote. It was one of the most stunning moments I have witnessed in the General Assembly. There were audible gasps from the folks watching the proceedings and from the lobbyists who were sent off to an overflow room to watch a live feed of the committee.

So there is a budget going to the floor of the Senate and a path to Medicaid expansion still exists. We just need the Senate to act on it. They have, once again, adjourned until morning.

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