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Lawmakers Head Home With Budget Work Pending

When lawmakers and their staff pack up their capitol offices and leave at the end of a legislative session, they’re typically only coming back for public meetings and considering vetoes and amendments from the Governor. But this year’s legislative session has now officially come and gone without a budget to show. That means lawmakers will have to return to work out their disagreements in a special session.

At the heart of the budget delay is the question of whether or not to expand Medicaid. The chambers arrived at an impasse over the issue after each rolled out their spending plans. Only the House budget contains a plan for Medicaid.

As the chamber finished up work the day before adjournment, it seemed overtime negotiations between the House and Senate would remain tense. “When you have a one-vote margin, it takes an entirely different skill set to lead your caucus and to lead a body,” said Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County).

Pointing to House Republicans’ recently reduced numbers, Senator Norment accused his counterpart in the other chamber of employing poor political strategies in crafting the budget and preparing for adjournment.

But then, hours before adjournment Saturday (3/10), the Senate Majority leader, who sarcastically referred to himself as “Senator Creampuff,” softened his rhetoric. Shortly afterwards, a joint delegation went to inform the Governor of their intention to adjourn.

On his way out the Capitol doors, Senator Republican Caucus Chair Ryan McDougle - who’s on his 17th legislative session - said it’s not unheard of for the legislature to adjourn without a spending plan. “We've left five times since I’ve been in without a budget on this day, but we’ll work through the process,” said McDougle.

He added the time between adjournment and the next round of budget talks could be refreshing for lawmakers who have spent the last eight weeks working intensely away from home. “We spend long hours debating a lot of information. And everybody gets tired and they can get a little snippy at this point, so sometimes just the ability to see your family which you might not have been able to do and get a little sleep causes cooler heads to reflect and everybody comes together.”

The focus now shifts to Governor Ralph Northam, who will invoke his constitutional authority to call the special budget planning session. Northam has said that if lawmakers approve a plan that doesn’t contain medicaid expansion provisions, he’s willing to make amendments and send the legislature back into negotiations.