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Looking for “Plan B”

House Republicans and Sen. Mark Warner exchanged letters [1] yesterday regarding Medicaid expansion and the state budget. Republicans are counting on past statements from both Warner and McAuliffe about the unnecessary horrors of federal government shutdowns to prod, but really to shame, the two Democrats into backing down on growing the state’s Medicaid program.

That is not going to happen. But it works for a press hit.

Inside Capitol Square, there is a different dynamic at work.

It is becoming clear, even to Democrats, that they have no “Plan B.” As April slides into May, the tension to do something about the state budget grows ever greater, with the biggest push coming from local governments that need to have their budgets put together before the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.

If this stand-off rolls into June, that’s when things get very interesting. One side will crack. For the moment, the bet is that Democrats, lacking a coherent strategy, will fold.

They do have ways out. The biggest is for them to decide what victory looks like. Is it full expansion? No. Back in January, Paul Goldman and I wrote [2] in the Washington Post:

McAuliffe’s team understands the Medicaid stakes: There is no second chance for a first impression. The legislative showdown can make or break his image. There is no legal requirement to resolve every issue this year. Genuine progress will suffice. Howell and Saslaw are savvy dance partners.

“Genuine progress” can be defined anyway the sides choose. As the clock ticks on the state budget, Mr. McAuliffe and his team had best get to work figuring out what definition of progress will sell with their base.