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From the Front Row: Kaye Kory's Richmond Report

By Kaye Kory

Published by the Falls Church News-Press on July 8, 2015

Barack Obama is having a pretty good summer. Despite the reflexive criticism from conservative pundits on Fox and the tortured illogic of scribblers in the conservative blogosphere – whether you agree with them or not – it’s hard to deny the administration its measure of credit for progressive victories in healthcare, social policy and trade. The jury is still out on Iran diplomacy and immigration, but the policy formulation and political calculation of the Obama team has them well positioned for whatever results Republican leaders in Congress will allow.

Even more gratifying is the dignity and intelligence the President has displayed in recent months consoling black Americans, while unmistakably pressing the majority of Americans to understand the full extent of residual racism that coarsens the lives of millions. Barack Obama brings a gravitas to his office that was beyond the capability of his predecessor. Though Obama’s rhetorical gifts have been valuable, his success derives more from consistent focus on both long-term goals and short-term improvement in governance.

Virginia Democrats face significant challenges in achieving successes that measure up to the recent standard of Democrats in Washington. By far, the most important goal for next year’s legislative session is Medicaid expansion. With the Supreme Court endorsing the HHS/IRS interpretation of the ACA, progressives in the General Assembly must simply roll up their sleeves and do whatever it takes. Governor McAuliffe has already indicated that he intends to revisit this issue.

During the legislative session last winter, the Republican party’s national agenda of Obamacare obstructionism overwhelmed the efforts of the few more pragmatic Republican legislators to forge a compromise program that would have channeled hundreds of millions in Medicaid payments to Virginia. With many Republicans facing challenges from the right in last month’s primaries, this outcome is understandable. Today, with the reality of Obamacare established for the foreseeable future, penalizing the citizens of Virginia to support the worldview of Karl Rove and the Koch brothers rises to the level of apparent malfeasance.

Malfeasance is certainly a strong word. But, how else can you characterize a decision that imposes tens of millions of dollars in un-reimbursed healthcare spending on Virginia taxpayers, whose federal tax dollars are funding such payments in 30 other states? How else can you characterize a decision that denies access to what could be life-saving health care to at least some portion of the 400,000 residents who would be eligible under the ACA? How else can you characterize a decision that costs Virginia more than 30,000 jobs in healthcare and the related boost to the economy while forcing existing providers to live with reduced Medicaid reimbursements?

The policy excuse for this nonsense? Virginia Republicans just don’t believe that the 100 percent reimbursement for increased Medicaid spending in 2016 and the 90 percent reimbursement for services delivered thereafter is sustainable in the long term. Even if the program, as defined, is not sustainable – which is not at all clear given early data – the responsible position of concerned legislators would be to work with their colleagues across the aisle to assess the facts and implement changes that might be needed.

The political culture in Virginia breeds a kind of exceptionalism vis a vis other states that is not unlike the American worldwide version of this belief, but which is far less justified. Virginia politicians – Democrats and Republicans – espouse the “Virginia Way,” by which they mean effectively governed, economically conservative and socially moderate. Virginia politicians take special pride in their savvy economic development achievements. Unfortunately, the Republican sequestration budget strategy has forcefully reminded Virginians that Federal spending is a far more potent driver of Virginia prosperity than tax incentives for corporate relocation.

Virginia’s failure to engage substantively in national healthcare policy formation through participation in the ACA further threatens our vision of the Virginia Way. I am optimistic about the prospects for the session next year, because of the respect I have for the leadership on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of the General Assembly.