As deadline nears, Virginia budget hinges on Medicaid debate

Virginia lawmakers discuss expanding Medicaid, budget details

RICHMOND, Va. – The battle over Virginia’s budget will boil down to a health care decision.

Lawmakers returned to Richmond Monday working to head off a government shutdown. The Senate will need to accept or reject a Medicaid expansion proposal that the House of Delegates passed.

Demonstrators chanted and held signs outside the Capitol Monday to voice support of Medicaid expansion, as a General Assembly special session began in Richmond.

Inside, Democrats, like Sen. John Edwards, who represents Roanoke, said they're in favor of the change because it could give many more Virginians access to health care.

“It’s extremely important,” he said. “We already turned down over $10 billion of money we could have gotten since 2014. Just from an economic standpoint, it makes no sense at all.”

Estimates show around 400,000 Virginians could benefit from the Medicaid expansion. Edwards said he thinks it'll go through. The question is what will it look like.

Sen. Steve Newman, a Republican who represents Lynchburg, doesn't think it'll happen. He and other Senate Republican leaders oppose the expansion and have said they want more financial information, coming in the form of a full state revenue report, before considering it.

“I believe that the Congress of the United States is likely to amend the process. If they do it could cost the state billions of dollars that will come directly out of our law enforcement, public education and otherwise,” he said. “To me, we should be very careful before we greatly expand what is the welfare program.”

The House approved its spending plans about a month ago. Now, the Senate is delaying a conclusion and has a July 1 deadline to figure it out before the government shuts down.

“We’ve been trying to get it since 2014. It's that frustrating. But the Republican majority said ‘no,’” Edwards said.

The Senate Finance Committee, which met Monday, will be in charge of hammering out specifics.

Lawmakers said they're not sure when they'll reach an agreement on the budget.