A Virginia state senator is set to resign on Monday after cutting a deal with Republicans, a stunning move that gives the state GOP the upper hand in an ongoing fight over the state’s budget and an expansion of the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic state Sen. Phillip Puckett will step down on Monday, news first reported by The Washington Post. According to the report, Puckett’s resignation leads the way for him to get a job as deputy director of the state tobacco commission and for his daughter to be confirmed for a state judgeship.
It also means Republicans now have a 20-19 majority in the state Senate, something that could stall an expansion of the Medicaid program in the middle of an increasingly tenuous, partisan fight over the state budget.
Puckett’s office confirmed he will make the announcement on Monday but declined to discuss specifics of the deal that reportedly led to his resignation — a deal some characterised as “bribery.”
A furious Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, called the situation “unacceptable.”
“I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia,” McAuliffe said.
“This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap.”
Virginia’s government is rapidly veering toward a shutdown if neither side budges from its Medicaid position before July 1. McAuliffe says an expansion must be part of the new budget, while Republicans have so far resisted his calls.
Virginia is one of 24 states that has not expanded the Medicaid program under the law known as Obamacare. McAuliffe campaigned on a promise to change that.
The state’s Medicaid office estimates that as many as 400,000 Virginians would be eligible for Medicaid coverage under a possible expansion. According to a study from The Commonwealth Institute, a supporter of the expansion, more than 20,000 of those people could come from Puckett’s district alone.
More than 6 million people nationwide have enrolled in the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs since the law has begun being implemented.
Puckett’s resignation gives Republicans an outright majority in the state Senate. The previous 20-20 split gave Democrats a de-facto majority, since Virginia’s lieutenant governor would cast a tie-breaking vote. Virginia’s Republican-controlled House is staunchly opposed to an expansion of Medicaid.
In his statement, however, McAuliffe offered a reminder that three moderate Republican state senators had offered sentiments of support for Medicaid expansion. Their votes could theoretically make Republicans’ majority obsolete.
This post has been updated.