I just got off a conference call with Senators Dick Saslaw, Donald McEachin, and Barbara Favola, reviewing the 2013 Virginia General Assembly session. Here are a few highlights.
*Sen. Saslaw noted that it can’t be “immoral to take money from a government that’s broke” for Medicaid expansion if it’s ok to take money “from the same broke government” for “the sequester problem.”
*On Paul Goldman’s article in today’s Washington Post, arguing that the transportation bill is unconstitutional on a number of counts (e.g., taxes must be uniform across the Commonwealth for the same class of items), Saslaw cited the Metro tax on Northern Virginia 32 years ago as “definitely a precedent,” but in the end “we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out.”
*Saslaw argued that the regional packages are what really made the transportation bill attractive. Also, we at least “stopped the bleeding in the maintenance fund” for a while.
*On social issues, Saslaw felt that it was a “pretty good year” compared to what it could have been, especially compared to last year with the ultrasound bill. A lot of bad stuff was stopped this year.
*On Medicaid expansion, Saslaw argued that if Virginia doesn’t take the money, Republicans will effectively “hang a $2.2 billion health care bill on the businesses and the people of Virginia…it’s extremely anti-business, which is why the Chamber of Commerce, every major business group, the health care providers and insurers, everybody has been pushing for Medicaid expansion…” Thus, Republicans resisting Medicaid expansion are being “extremely anti-business,” in Saslaw’s view.
*Sen. Favola highlighted Democrats’ stopping “several bills that would have attempted to actually prohibit group insurance plans from covering contraception, sterilization, or abortion-inducing drugs.” Favola added that “most Virginians, I think, agree that contraception is here to stay, is actually a good thing from many levels, especially for the health of women and families…but these Republicans were trying to thwart the Affordable Care Act…we were able to stop them, so I think that’s a big win.”
*In general, Favola argued that Democrats “stood up for women, stood up for private relationships between a patient and her doctor...I just find it very interesting that the Republicans always always purport to be the party of…less intrusive government, but when it comes to women’s health care, they’re exactly the opposite.”
*Sen. McEachin said Democrats did have some setbacks, as Republicans defeated “our version of the Virginia DREAM Act…protection for LGBT Virginians…bans on high-capacity magazines…no excuse absentee voting...with no evidence of any voter fraud, they were able to pass more restrictive ID laws to allow people to get to the polls.”
*On the transportation plan, Sen. Saslaw said that if Gov. McDonnell makes any major changes, “they would be rejected by the Senate, and then he’d have to make the decision if he’s going to veto the whole bill or not.”
*On the hybrid fees, Sen. Saslaw strongly defended them, asking “why should people who are paying the gas tax subsidize the people who aren’t paying as much gas tax to use the roads, they’re both using the roads; now you’ve got hybrids coming out in full-size SUVs, full-size cars, these people are using the roads and they aren’t paying the tax…I know that not everybody on this phone call agrees me, but that’s the way it is.” Hmmm.
*On the Medicaid committee being tilted towards the Republicans, Sen. Saslaw said that it matters a great deal who wins the governor’s election, as “you can’t do anything until 2014 anyway,” and “the budget…[and therefore the] commission only lasts a year and a half.” If Terry McAuliffe becomes governor, Saslaw argued, then all this “becomes moot because [McAuliffe] can go ahead and notify [the federal government that Virginia will] go ahead with the expansion.”
*Sen. McEachin argued that the wording in the Medicaid deal “actually put on paper” was that “the Department SHALL go forward to seek the waivers and to seek the reforms, there’s a fairly objective criterion what that means and what those items are, and when that happens, the commission SHALL not MAY – it’s not up to them – the commission SHALL [proceed] with the expansion of Medicaid.” McEachin added that AG Cuccinelli’s opinion, “dropped on us at the last minute…ironically…forced us to rewrite things a little bit…and it even got stronger for those of us who believe that Medicaid expansion is a good thing.”
*Julian Walker of the Virginian-Pilot pressed the Senators that there still seems to be “wiggle room” for those on the Medicaid commission who might oppose expansion. Senator Saslaw acknowledged that there’s “wiggle room,” just as you’d find in almost any bill, but “you can’t do anything until January 1, 2014 anyway, and by then you’ll have the results of a gubernatorial election which could render this mostly moot.”
*Sen. Favola noted that “Republican governor after Republican governor have decided to participate in this Medicaid expansion program, so at some point people are going to sit back and maybe look at things objectively and not politically…and the facts are becoming clearer and clearer [that Medicaid expansion makes sense].”
*On the politics of the transportation bill (e.g., almost every Republican candidate running for governor, LG or AG opposing it; every Democrat running for governor, LG or AG supporting it), Sen. Saslaw got animated, saying “I’d LOVE to make this a referendum on transportation, that every Republican candidate for statewide office was opposed to transportation…and they can’t find one thing that they voted for, not one thing, they voted against every single plan – not one, not one, they didn’t vote for a single one; they can’t say well I was for this — bull@#$@ — they voted against every single plan, and they are opposed to any transportation improvements, that’s the issue, and they proved it with their vote…they didn’t want to do a thing!”
*Sen. McEachin added, sarcastically, that he “love[s] the opportunity to juxtapose [the Republican statewide candidates] against that radical left winger Bill Howell and that radical left winger Bob McDonnell.”
*On voter ID requirements, Sen. McEachin said he doesn’t know what Gov. McDonnell will do, but that “I would hope he would see that there’s no sense in doing this, that there’s no evidence of voter fraud,” and that the next automatic step would be review by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act.