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Live Blog: Virginia Senate Debates Medicaid Expansion [UPDATED with Video of Unhinged, Extreme GOP Tirades]

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UPDATE 7:37 pm: See below for video of the last hour of today’s absurd State Senate session. First, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) speaks about when the Senate will meet next (Tuesday, May 29 at 3 pm) and to claim that on Wednesday at 9 am “the budget issue will be addressed and resolved one way or the other.” Then, Sen. Emmett Hanger (R) says they’ve been hard at work on a budget “behind the scenes” and “are about there.” Hanger adds that there will be “definitive action” next Tuesday afternoon. Hanger said he expects to “conclude our business on Wednesday,” following a “complete airing and vetting of the budget as had been prepared by many hands.” More Hanger “We have a responsibility…we have probably pushed the time limit as far as we should…the governor is anxious…extremely anxious…[the House of Delegates] is not our enemy.” Sen. Dick Saslaw (D) says he “came here today” fully expecting to wrap things up this week, and that if the Senate doesn’t wrap things up by next week, “make no mistake about it, either I or Sen. Hanger will move to discharge the committee…health care is not a privilege, it’s a right…One way or the other, we’re going to get a bill to the governor…I would hope that you all who are opposed to this would examine your conscience.” Sen. Norment then comes back to spew out nonsense about Medicaid expansion, how the “financial consequences are going to be horrific,” how there are people who choose “not to help themselves,” how the rules of the Senate “were NOT going to be suspended,” how there’s no rush to do this (note that Virginia General Assembly Republicans have been blocking this for years now), how there’s “all kinds of rumor-mongering” and “fake news” out there (i.e., that Medicaid expansion negotiations were going on “at my behest” with a “wink and a nod,” that he’s planning to retire because “I’m so embarrassed at what has happened,” but that “I’m going to be here in 2019 and 2020 to kick your ass”). Norment then went on a mini-rant about “decorum” and about people who are “blinded in their approach.” Sen. Saslaw then asks when the majority leader “morphed into Donald Trump.” Sen. Mamie Locke (D) then talks about the adverse impact on localities of not having a budget and shares a letter from a mom, union member and psychiatric nurse from Loudoun County on the crucial importance of expanding Medicaid now. Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) then demonstrates why were all so fortunate that he lost to Mark Herring in 2013, because he (Obenshain) is a far-right nutjob (remember, this is the guy who wants to criminalize miscarriages). Obenshain basically spends several minutes spewing out complete nonsense, falsehoods and far-right talking points (mostly about how government is, supposedly, the root of all evils). For instance, Obenshain implies that health care is a problem invented by bureaucrats who just want to spend more money. Riiiiiiiiiiiiight. Oh, and how Medicaid “is hurting people.” I’m seriously not making this shit up – check out the video. Sen. Jeremy McPike (D) indignantly and angrily pushes back on Obenshain’s idiocy — “these are real people with real stories and real challenges; they didn’t ask for this, they didn’t sign up to become an amputee and then be described by some here as ‘a freeloaders'”). Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R) then claims that asking people to “examine their conscience” is somehow “disparaging.” Sen. Janet Howell (D) then kicks some serious butt: “I hope the press is watching and I hope the people of Virginia are watching, because we need to cast a bright spotlight on what’s happening here. We have a minority of the Senate of Virginia delaying and obstructing the will of the majority of the Senate…the majority of the House of Delegates…and most importantly, the overwhelming will of Virginians…Virginians overwhelmingly want Medicaid expansion…while we’re diddling and dawdling…people are suffering, some people are dying…get real here and do what we know has to be done and pass the budget and help Virginians.” Sen. Barbara Favola (D) notes that we have an obligation to stop wasting our tax dollars…we need to insure more people…It is really time to act, these facts have been out there…Why don’t we just take that next step?…I am not happy about this delay…We have to act next week.” Then the craziest speech of all, by Sen. Charles Carrico (R), ranting and raving about Planned Parenthood, “millions of babies dying every day” (what???), and “the agenda that you want” and having this “shoved down our throats” and…don’t even ask, just listen to this wacko if you can stand it. Sen. George Barker (D) correctly explains that government actually does things “extraordinarily well” in many ways, including on Medicaid, here in Virginia. Sen. Dick Saslaw asks why all the health wagons are in Southwest Virginia and not in Fairfax County. That sets Sen. Bill Stanley (R) off on an angry tirade about how “government dependency” has singlehandedly ruined southwestern Virginia and how HORRIBLE Medicaid is. Seriously. Again, you can’t make this shit up. Who votes for these people?!?

UPDATE 6:27 pm: I’ll post video in a little while of the last hour of angry/impassioned debate over Medicaid expansion, but for now, I’ll just give my awards for most unhinged, wrong-headed, angry speeches by Virginia Senate Republicans: 1) Sen. Carrico; 2) Sen. Obenshain; 3) Sen. Stanley. What’s really scary is that they seem to actually believe the far-right crap they spew out. Also that anyone ever votes for people like this. Amazing.

UPDATE 5:21 pm: In short, Republicans can’t govern and shouldn’t be in charge of anything Boot them all out of Congress in November 2019 and out of the the Virginia General Assembly in November 2019!

UPDATE 5:19 pm: Alrighty…

UPDATE 4:52 pm: Amazing. And not in a good way!

UPDATE 4:42 pm: You must be f’ing kidding me!

UPDATE 4:33 pm: And with that, the Senate is now in recess until 5 pm as Republicans and Democrats huddle to discuss…strategery?

UPDATE 4:23 pm – Yes, they’re actually doing introductions of guests in the gallery…LOL That includes welcoming one group that deserves a great deal of praise – the “People’s Caravan for Medicaid Expansion.” Nice job by everyone involved in pushing for Medicaid expansion here in Virginia!

For years now, Virginia Republicans have ranted and raved about how HORRIBLE it would be expand health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians, to help rural hospitals, to bring back billions of dollars of our taxes, to help Virginia’s economy, etc, etc. Now, after picking up 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates, and after Congressional Republicans failed to kill “Obamacare,” Democrats – along with some House Republicans, at long last – are on the verge of (possibly, finally) expanding Medicaid in Virginia. Of course, Senate Republicans – including ones in districts won by Ralph Northam, like Glen Sturtevant, Siobhan Dunnavant, Frank Wagner and Dick Black – still seem hell bent on making it as difficult, onerous, punitive, etc. as possible. But hopefully we can overcome that. First, we have to get the legislation our of committee and onto the Senate floor, and overcome whatever procedural/other hurdles Majority Leader Norment and his caucus put up. So…we’ll see what happens; the debate should begin any minute now. Stay tuned…and watch it here.

P.S. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the compromise reached between Senate Finance Co-Chairman Emmett Hanger and House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones would “expand the state’s Medicaid program and pay for the state’s share through a new tax on hospital revenues that also would boost Medicaid payments for inpatient provider care.” It also would “bank an expected $500 million revenue windfall to boost Virginia’s reserve funds to almost $1 billion…provide for a 3 percent teacher pay raise and up to 4 percent (2 percent across the board and 2 percent merit pay) in salary increases for state employees in mid-2019 if the revenues are adequate at the end of this year…provide targeted raises to direct-care staff in state mental hospitals and other behavioral health facilities, while boosting pay for sheriff’s deputies and officers in corrections, juvenile justice and marine police…fund all 435 judgeships allowed by law, including 31 that had been eligible but not funded.”

  • Laura Lee

    Thanks for this

  • Governor Northam Statement on Virginia Senate Budget Process

    RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam released the following statement today on the ongoing discussions in the Senate of Virginia about the state budget:

    “Today the leadership of the Virginia Senate asked the people of this Commonwealth to wait yet another week before the body acts on a budget. The continued delays and procedural stall tactics that we are seeing from the Senate create uncertainty for families and local governments, threaten Virginia’s bond rating and run afoul of this Commonwealth’s reputation for efficient and effective government.”

    “This unnecessary delay is made more insulting to Virginians by the reality that the House of Delegates passed a budget that expands health care weeks ago, and a majority of Senators have indicated they would vote for a similar measure if the Senate would simply put one on the floor. Virginians have waited long enough. It’s time to pass a budget that expands Medicaid and invests in the future of our economy.”

  • SENATE DEM LEADERSHIP FLOOR COMMENTS ON FURTHER SENATE BUDGET DELAYS

    RICHMOND — This afternoon, the Virginia Senate yet again failed to vote on, let alone pass, a budget. During a series of tense hour’s worth of points of personal privilege, Senate Democratic leaders made the following remarks:

    Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said, “Healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right. A lot of us here have had a lot of breaks in our lives, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t get these breaks. They work hard but for one reason or another things don’t turn out right for them. These are the people who need our help… One way or another we are going to get Medicaid expansion to the Governor’s desk.”

    Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) said, “Our localities are waiting for us to be fiscally responsible. We sit here in our lofty ivory tower being fiscally irresponsible without passing a budget – our primary responsibility here as legislators… It is time for us to do our jobs – not only to pass Medicaid expansion, but to pass a budget. That is what we were sent here to do.”

    Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax), ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said, “We need to cast a bright spotlight on what is happening here. We have a minority of the Senate of Virginia delaying and obstructing the will of the majority of the Senate of Virginia, the will of the majority of the House of Delegates, the will of the Governor, and most importantly the overwhelming will of Virginians. Virginians overwhelmingly want Medicaid expansion, and while we are diddling and dawdling here on the Senate Floor, people are suffering. Some people are dying. And we diddle and we dawdle and we delay. I think it’s time, Mr President, that we get real here and do what we know has to be done and pass the budget and help Virginians.”

  • From Progress Virginia:

    Senate GOP Insults Working Virginians With Actions and Words

    Richmond, VA—In an outrageous display, members of the Senate Republican caucus led by Senator Tommy Norment thumbed their noses at Virginia families today, refusing to hold a vote on a budget compromise that would expand Medicaid while raising teacher pay and investing in key priorities. Rather than vote, Senator Norment and several of this colleagues took to the floor to decry assaults on Senate “traditions” and “decorum.” Senator Mark Obenshain went so far as to imply that individuals in the coverage gap are not “real Virginians” compared to those who purchase insurance policies through other means. This is the second time in two weeks Senators have returned to Richmond and failed to take a single substantive action to move forward a state budget.

    “Today’s (non)meeting of the state Senate was simply a disgrace and an insult to Virginians across the Commonwealth,” said Progress Virginia executive director Anna Scholl. “Every day, millions of Virginians show up to work and do their jobs. But while an average of 11 Virginians die each week because they lack access to health insurance, Tommy Norment refuses to do his, instead delivering irrelevant lectures about “decorum.” Shame on Tommy Norment for concerning himself more with “decorum” than with healthcare for 400,000 Virginians.”

  • Sen. Chap Petersen:

    Friends, Virginians, Citizens of Fairfax;

    “Well, the waiting is the hardest part.” (Tom Petty, 1981)

    Eight years ago, the U.S. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act which expanded Medicaid eligibility to millions of working Americans.

    Six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the states, which administer Medicaid, could decide eligibility.

    Five years ago, the Virginia Senate passed its budget (35-5) expanding Medicaid per the ACA. However, implementation was “deferred” while a joint legislative committee reviewed ways to improve Medicaid service delivery.

    Four years ago, the Virginia Senate passed “Marketplace Virginia” which expanded Medicaid with certain free-market reforms, e.g. utilizing managed care for all new beneficiaries. The House Republicans rejected it.

    Three months ago, a bipartisan House passed a budget with Medicaid expansion, including certain work requirements. The Senate Repubblicans rejected it. The Assembly adjourned without a State Budget.

    Two weeks ago, in special session, the House — with the Governor’s approval — passed the same budget by a 2-1 margin.

    Today, with a state shutdown a month away, the Senate returned to vote on the State Budget. At the last second, the majority leader asked for a week-long delay so the Senate Finance Committee could …. (wait for it) … STUDY THE ISSUE OF MEDICAID EXPANSION.

    Over my “no” vote, the Senate adjourned today without a budget.

    So another week slips by.

    Comedy, tragedy, farce. But definitely not leadership.

  • Harry

    Sen. Stuart is probably the least known member of the Senate, he has never done anything meaningful during his tenure, merely taking up space. That said he actually hates his constituents, refusing to meet with his constituents in Prince William County despite numerous invitations by non-profit, non partisan groups. His Legislative person advised “… Senator Stuart is a family man he would never come to Prince William, it’s too far…”

    • He is truly appalling. Get him outta there!

    • David T.

      interesting…Considering all the work he has done for conservation efforts he has done throughout his tenure, specifically for the sewage issues of the Potomac. Recently Won the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Legislative Award. Advocate for criminal justice reform. Supporter of the ERA. in my opinion, he really isn’t one of the bad ones…

  • Video: VA Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) on “silver-tongued devils” and how he’s going to “kick your ass”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNh-lBqr7-Y