Big news out of Richmond: Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment and his band of reverse Robin Hoods finally experienced a brief outbreak of decency in the Republican ranks. Four of the guardians of greed broke ranks and voted with the Democrats in the Senate to approve a budget which will allow 400,000 low-income family members to receive basic health coverage through Medicaid.
For six years, Republican State Senators and Delegates voted to refuse federal dollars (approximately $8 billion in total to date) to provide basic health coverage to 400,000 needy, uninsured Virginians. While the Republicans lamely claimed the reason was a concern about possible uncertainty of the federal commitment, in fact they were afraid of being seen taking readily available funding from a major Republican bogeyman, Barack Obama’s legacy.
So, what changed the minds of several Republicans in the House of Delegates and four of Tommy Norment’s sidekicks in the Senate to vote for a budget with all those federal dollars? Unfortunately, it was not conversion to a course of action in the best interests of the people of Virginia. It was a matter of their own higher priority interests, an upcoming election for the rascals. In last year’s House of Delegates elections seventeen of their colleagues got whipped by (mostly female) Democrats. Their colleagues’ losses were due, in part, to their refusal to support Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians. Their association with the then new incumbent in the White House was another factor in their defeat.
Unfortunately, we cannot go back and undo the terrible economic and human damage done by Republicans’ immoral intransigence in failing to act in the public interest. Eight billion dollars not flowing into the Commonwealth and not creating an estimated additional 30,000 jobs was, and is, quite a blow. Even more painful to contemplate is the loss in human terms for which we do not yet have firm estimates. How many people—very young, very old and in between—suffered for lack of insurance coverage and care. How many more died over these years? Let us hope that the politicians responsible for the terrible toll to Virginia learned something or will learn something if they honestly analyze the costs of their craven political acts.
There is a silver lining to this dreadful cloud which hovers over this commonwealth. The good news is Ralph Northam (D), the new Governor who made solving this tragedy his number one objective and who would not let go of the legislators responsible until it got fixed. Hats off also to former Governor Terry McAuliffe who exhausted a great deal of energy and some political capital trying to fix it, but came up short in the voting time and again as Republicans dug in their heels and would not let humanity win out. And, thanks of course, to our own Delegate Ken Plum who doggedly fought for the Medicaid expansion on every front from day one until the very end last week when he and Senator Janet Howell voted yes as they had throughout the six-year ordeal.