The GOP taking heat over Medicaid expansion

There has been a lot of online chatter about an email former Republican lieutenant governor candidate Susan Stimpson circulated regarding Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

In short, parts of the conservative base are skeptical that the House Republican leadership is serious about preventing the program’s expansion. Skeptical to the point that they are putting pressure on members of the legislative commission set up to review and make recommendations on expansion.

This has not sat well with some in the GOP, who would prefer all this fire and activism be aimed at Democrats. As Steve Albertson noted, the outcry prompted Speaker Bill Howell to make his strongest statement yet on the topic:

As Tenth Congressional District Chairman John Whitbeck paraphrased in a tweet posted during Howell’s talk, the Speaker stated in no uncertain terms that “Medicaid expansion will not happen in Virginia. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Most importantly, the Speaker did not prevaricate or qualify his remarks…he did not say that expansion wouldn’t happen “unless” the reforms were put in place. He just plainly said it wouldn’t happen.

In a similar vein, RPV chairman Pat Mullins issued this statement:

“ObamaCare is an expensive, unaffordable train wreck that threatens to bring everything that’s wrong with the federal government into our health care system. I have said repeatedly that expanding Medicaid in Virginia is a terrible idea. It threatens to create a massive new unfunded liability for the Commonwealth that would at the same time put hundreds of thousands of Virginians into a system that people in both parties know is badly broken. Speaker Howell has been rock solid on this issue, and I commend him for his leadership. Just this weekend he told our state central committee that Medicaid expansion in Virginia is not going to happen. I stand with Speaker Howell in opposition to the expansion of Medicaid under ObamaCare and I call on all members of the General Assembly to do likewise.”

Taken together, it would seem that there is enough steel, at least in the Republican House members of the Medicaid commission, to block an expansion.

But as Tom White notes, not everyone is willing to take such words at face value:

Republicans have a trust issue in Virginia – especially with the Conservative wing of the party. Denials of intent are well and good but the creation of this committee in and of itself should give Virginians cause for concern. The Republicans controlled the House, Senate and Governor’s Office and we still got a huge tax increase and a super committee that places the pockets of Virginians in even deeper jeopardy.

And despite the denials of impending Medicaid expansion, most of us are still not reassured that ObamaCare will not be coming to a Medicaid Expansion Center near you.

Tom is right. This really is all about trust. I can recall back in 2005 the promises house leaders made that Mark Warner’s tax hike would never get out of committee. Well, it did. But really, it will die on the House floor. Except in didn’t, owing to the defection of just enough Republicans to enable passage.

That’s not to say such a thing would happen on Medicaid reform. One assumes that House Republicans, the bulk of whom are very good at following instructions, would prevent Medicaid expansion, even if the commission goes, inexplicably, off the rails and endorses the idea.

But some are unwilling to make either this assumption, or put their faith in the GOP leadership’s words. These folks have long memories and are happy to nurse grievances.

More troubling for the GOP is the deeper current running through some of these activists. Among them, the possibility of a Gov. McAuliffe is quite real — not certain, but not improbable. They have already seen that Terry McAuliffe is intent on expanding Medicaid. He could use the issue as Mark Warner used tax increases in 2005 to split the GOP and achieve the impossible.

Distrust mixed with fear. The fear may be unwarranted, but the distrust runs deep.