The Washington Post reported on Sunday evening that State Senator Phillip Puckett, a Democrat, will resign from office Monday. Puckett is resigning so he can take on a new job as deputy director of the state’s tobacco commission, a position with significant benefits. Also, by resigning, Puckett’s daughter will apparently be in line to be confirmed for a state judgeship. With Puckett stepping away from his position, Republicans are now able to gain a 20-19 advantage in the State Senate. Previously, with Democrats and Republicans holding the same number of seats, the lieutenant governor held any tie breaking vote. Therefore, Democrats held the advantage, as the state’s Lt. Gov. is a Democrat.
Per the Post’s reporting, Republicans were able to convince Puckett to resign with these job offers for him and his daughter, essentially bribing him so the GOP can regain the Senate. Republicans want the advantage in the Senate in order to block the Medicaid expansion in the state under the Affordable Care Act. Currently, Virginia is one of 24 states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the health care law. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe won election this past November partly by promising to expand Medicaid to lower-income Virginians.
However, the GOP, which holds an advantage in the state’s House, has been in a budget standoff with Democrats over expanding health coverage and there is a threat of a state government shutdown if the Senate and House can’t agree on a budget by July 1st. The state’s House Republicans won’t budge on expanding the program, because, you know, Obama. On the other hand, the Governor and the Senate have been keen on making Medicaid available to more people. Even with Puckett gone, McAuliffe has stated that he has three other moderate Republicans in the Senate that are willing to expand Medicaid, meaning he should still have the votes necessary in the upper chamber.
The problem at this time is that two Democrats will be out of the state much of this month. With Puckett resigning, Senate Republicans are going to look to get a budget passed ASAP, hoping to catch Democrats with their pants down and force through a budget. And force many poor working people in the state to go without health coverage, because that seems like a worthwhile goal. Now that the GOP has the advantage in the Senate for the time being, the lieutenant governor can’t act as a tie breaking vote. Also, Puckett’s seat is in a Republican-leaning district, so it appears that the GOP might be able to expand their advantage when a special election is held.
McAuliffe was not very happy with Puckett when he heard the news on Sunday. Below is an excerpt from a statement he released.
“I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia. This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap.”
It doesn’t appear that McAuliffe or Democrats can do anything about the position that Puckett will go to, even though it is a state job. The state tobacco commission’s chairman and vice-chairman are both Republicans, and the commission has final say on appointments. As for Puckett’s daughter, she is currently temporarily assigned to her position on the bench. She hadn’t been confirmed because of her father being an active Senator. With his resignation, she’ll now be confirmed to a six-year term. That is purely up to the state’s Senate.
This is how far Republicans will go to deny poor people decent health care. They’ll appeal to one man’s greed in order to negatively affect hundreds of thousands of people in their state. That seems to be the GOP in a nutshell.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).