RICHMOND — Don’t think Virginia’s upcoming General Assembly session is going to be a lively affair?
Then check social media feeds from the weekend.
Democrats riding high on their big Virginia election victories last month spent much of Sunday slamming their own incoming governor, Ralph Northam, for comments he made about bipartisanship and Medicaid.
“I would urge Ralph Northam and his staff to clarify his Medicaid position as fast as possible or he’ll deserve the wrath he gets from Democrats everywhere. He ran on a promise to expand the program to 400,000 Virginians. Period.” tweeted former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, whose Pod Save America podcast helped whip up progressive support for Northam before the election.
Northam said in an interview published Sunday in The Washington Post that he supports outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to expand Medicaid, but he said that the system faces spiraling costs and that he would like to see “managed care” reforms to make it more efficient.
He also pledged to work with Republicans to design that system, as part of an overall sentiment of bipartisanship that includes refusing to use his powers of appointment to pluck GOP legislators from a closely divided General Assembly to create a Democratic majority.
Virginia Democrats, led by McAuliffe, have made expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act a priority for the past four years. Northam ran on a promise to extend health insurance to the nearly 400,000 low-income Virginians who are eligible under Medicaid expansion.
The suggestion that the new governor might tie that expansion to efforts to rein in costs, something Republicans have undertaken in other states, was anathema to many in his party’s progressive wing.
“Ralph, people elected you because you’re a Democrat and they liked the things you promised,” one activist tweeted. “They wanted a Democratic governor, not a bipartisan semi-Republican.”
Former congressman Tom Perriello, who ran a sharply progressive campaign against Northam in the Democratic primary but later worked to get him elected, was among the first to react to Northam’s comments.
“Blocking Medicaid expansion was a major reason so many Republicans lost their House seats in VA this year. Full expansion should be bi-partisan, and every legislator in Richmond should have to cast a public vote before 2019 on a policy that is morally right & good for VA economy,” Perriello tweeted.
The progressive blog Blue Virginia compiled a long list of angry comments from Democrats in Virginia and nationwide, criticizing not only Northam’s Medicaid statements but also his refusal to reshape the legislature as being “politically incompetent.”
Northam responded Sunday with a tweet promising to “continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion because it is a no-brainer for Virginia families, our budget, and our economy. We can also come together on smart policy choices that will allow us to deliver better care at lower cost.”
Northam had said in the interview with The Post that he was committed to getting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, and that “I do want to try to bring those resources back into Virginia and tie it into Medicaid reform.” He suggested that some able-bodied Medicaid recipients could be required to work.
A spokesman said Monday that Northam did not intend to make expansion contingent upon reform, only that he would like to pursue both.
Blue Virginia blogger Lowell Feld said that Northam’s clarifications “sure sounded like strong support for Medicaid expansion. Good to see. As always, of course, the devil’s in the details.”
Northam’s emphasis on bipartisanship got a warm reception from at least one corner in Richmond: Republican lawmakers.
“I’m very encouraged by the comments of the governor-elect,” Republican Del. S. Chris Jones, House Appropriations chairman, said Monday after McAuliffe unveiled his final budget proposal.
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) said she thought the social-media flap was overblown by outsiders. “I’m not sure there were a lot of Virginia Democrats to begin with concerned with Ralph’s comments,” she said.
Favola said Northam was smart to open the door to compromise with Republicans, as the party still controls the General Assembly. “We’ll have to pick off some Republican votes in each chamber to get Medicaid expansion through there,” she said.