On Thursday, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) released a statement after the Virginia House of Delegates passed a, “responsible and balanced budget.” The budget proposal will now be forwarded to the Senate and the differences between both chamber’s proposals will be discussed in a later conference.

According to press release from the office of the speaker, he commends the passing of the budget:

“I am proud the House approved the proposal put forth by the Committee on Appropriations that invests in the core functions of state government while responsibly investing in K-12 education, first responders, and our hard working state employees. This budget shows our commitment to growing our economy and improving the lives of all Virginians, while carefully guarding precious taxpayer dollars.”

The House voted 68-32 to pass the budget. As well, a companion bill which includes provisions to expand Virginia’s current Medicaid program was passed by the House with a 69-31 vote. However, there is still much contention with more conservative lawmakers on the grounds of Medicaid expansion, a major part of Governor Ralph Northam’s agenda. Speaker Cox, along with House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) voted against the measures that provided Medicaid expansion.

The State Senate’s version of the budget passed 21-19 on strict party lines, rejecting the House-popular expansion plan. Nevertheless, Medicaid expansion is coming closer to becoming a reality for Virginians.

In the press release, Speaker Cox commented on the expansion plan, saying it mirrors similar plans passed in Indiana and Kentucky. He said in the statement:

“The budget provides a framework for implementing significant reforms in Virginia’s Medicaid program and allows for more low-income Virginians to have access to healthcare. Our plan is similar to the plan enacted by Vice President Mike Pence when he was Governor of Indiana, and includes some of the same key reforms that the Trump administration has already approved for other states. I still have concerns about the long-term solvency of this program, which is why we have included a ‘Taxpayer Safety Switch’ that would protect Virginia in the event the federal government does not uphold its commitment.”

According to a report from the Daily Press, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed using $2.9 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid to cover all Virginians with incomes less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Moreover, the lower chamber will go forth with the measure if the Commonwealth can secure the federal approval needed to require non-excluded Medicaid recipients to work.

The Republican-led House passed H.B. 338 last week, imposing work requirements on Virginia’s one million current Medicaid recipients. Sponsored by Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach), the bill will provide an exception to required work for those who are elderly, children, pregnant women, and others who are not deemed “able bodied.”

Delegate Ben Cline (R-Lexington), who is currently running for the Republican nomination for the Sixth District Congressional seat, is discontent with the passing of the budget. He claims certain provisions do not promote Virginia’s “sound fiscal policy.”

“If we continue down this road of medicaid expansion, we do run the risk of crowding out other core functions of government — public safety, roads,” he said. Although he argues that the fiscal burden will eventually fall on state taxpayers and there are provisions to mitigate some of the financial damage.

Delegate Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg) reportedly stated there is a provision in the expansion amendment that will allow the state to “de-enroll” people from the Medicaid program if the federal government does not follow through with its fiscal pledge. In recent time, President Trump has signaled his “repeal and replace” measures with an overhaul of the Medicaid system, spurred on by the Graham-Cassidy block grant proposal from Congress.

“In my opinion this is not Obamacare Medicaid expansion,” Garrett said. “This is putting into place realistic achievable goals that are laudable for all Virginians,” he explained.

In the version from the upper chamber, Senate Finance Committee member Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said there is an additional amendment that will bring their plan in line with the House version. According to her, using the federal funds dedicated to Medicaid expansion under the Obama-era Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA) could allow the over 300,000 low-income Virginians to be covered under healthcare plans. The proposition could free up the approximately $421 million in state funds that is now being used to permit the expansion.

The House version and Senate version of the budget will be voted on before the March 10 adjournment of the General Assembly. There is just over two weeks left to discuss the proposals, a time which will most likely not be without dispute.