Va. House GOP lays out Medicaid legal strategy

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia House Republicans have retained a former U.S. solicitor general in preparation for a potential legal showdown with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe over the governor's ability to expand Medicaid eligibility.

House Speaker William J. Howell and other Republican leaders announced Wednesday they'd retained Paul Clement, who was solicitor general to former President George W. Bush and has frequently argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clement and another attorney produced a white paper analyzing Virginia law and the restrictions it places on McAuliffe's ability to bypass the General Assembly and expand Medicaid eligibility unilaterally.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Clement said the Virginia Constitution "makes very clear" that the power of appropriation lies principally with the legislature, and McAuliffe cannot expend funds for expanded health care coverage on his own. Clement said those restrictions would apply to federal funding that bypassed the state treasury, like a public-private partnership, which McAuliffe and other proponents of Medicaid expansion have mentioned as a possible option.

Howell said he hopes the governor does not try expand Medicaid on his own, but the House is "ready, willing and able" to try and stop him in court. Clement was paid $25,000 for the analysis from a fund controlled by the House clerk, the speaker said. Howell declined to say whether Clement would represent House Republicans if the Medicaid battle went to court.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has promised to cover the bulk of the cost of expanding Medicaid to low-income, able-bodied adults without children. About half of the states have agreed to the expansion.

Republicans recently won a months-long impasse with McAuliffe over whether Medicaid expansion should be included in the Virginia state budget.

In response, McAuliffe said last week he plans to expand publicly financed health care on his own and his staff is looking at multiple options. The governor has pointedly avoided saying he wants to expand Medicaid, but instead has said he wants to "bring back" federal Medicaid funds to provide that care to those who would be eligible for expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

McAuliffe has not yet detailed how he believes he can expand health coverage without legislative approval, but has tasked Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. William A. Hazel Jr. to present a plan no later than Sept. 1.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said it was "premature and ridiculous" for House Republicans "to oppose an action that hasn't even been announced or taken yet."

"It is disturbing that House Republicans believe a political report about the hypothetical lawsuit they would file to keep Virginians out of health care is a good use of $25,000 of Virginians' money," Coy said.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said Republicans are not going "to sit idly by" and allow an "executive power grab."

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