Senate reconvenes to begin work on budget

The Virginia Senate reconvened today in Special Session to take up the state budget once again.  The General Assembly failed to pass a budget during session this year.  The sticking point is whether to expand Medicaid coverage to 400,000 more Virginians with funding through the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate met only briefly Monday to forward two House budget bills to the Senate Finance Committee, which received an update on state revenue and began trying to hammer out a budget agreement.

Protestors outside the Capitol once again urged Senators to expand Medicaid.

Said protester Marilyn Karp, "If they don't expand Medicaid, people will die.  Studies have shown eleven people a week die because they lack healthcare coverage."

The House of Delegates has twice now, once during Session and again four weeks ago during Special Session, passed a budget that includes Medicaid expansion.

Senate Republicans blocked that budget this winter, concerned about the cost.  But now two Senate Republicans say they'll support Medicaid expansion under certain conditions and could swing the vote.

We caught up with one of them, Senator Frank Wagner (R - Virginia Beach).

"This isn't going to take any money out of the general fund.  We're going to be using provider assessment on the hospitals to pay for this.  And we're going to put a cap on it, a percentage for the state budget that can be allocated to Medicaid," said Wagner.

He says he's ready to fight for it this week.  "It's the General Assembly.  I'm always looking forward to a battle.  I went to the Naval Academy and battles are my thing."

Meantime, Senator Amanda Chase (R - Midlothian) is among Senate Republicans who are very concerned about escalating costs the state may have to pay if federal funding stops.

"They've pretty much taken the fiscal Commonwealth's car and wrecked it and brought it to the senate and said fix that," said Chase.

She says Senate Republicans have put forward other, already approved bills that could provide more Virginians with healthcare.

"The cost of expanding Medicaid from the federal level is unsustainable.  There are other alternatives that the Republican Senate Caucus has put forward to help with healthcare and they are fiscally conservative.  They're private health care options," explained Chase.

The Senate Finance committee meets Monday and Tuesday.  The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, May 22 to vote on the budget.