Gov. McAuliffe mulls bypassing the legislature on Medicaid expansion

Henceforth, this tactic shall be called “pulling an Obama.” At the beginning of the year, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe claimed victory on the issue of expanding Medicaid eligibility, despite that program’s exploding costs. Now, months into a budget impasse with the state legislature, McAuliffe is reportedly looking for ways to sign on to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion without authorization from the state legislature.

McAuliffe and his top advisers have consulted lawyers, health-care experts and legislators on how to bypass the GOP-dominated House of Delegates, according to three people familiar with the discussions. A fourth, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal private strategy, said the office of Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) has been researching the matter.

The move would allow Virginia to take advantage of a key state option under the Affordable Care Act, and it could help break a budget stalemate and avert a looming government shutdown.

That seems wildly optimistic, doesn’t it? McAuliffe declaring open war on the legislature does not seem likely to me to break any stalemates. A constitutionally-suspect power-grab seems more likely to do just the opposite, enraging legislators and firming up opposition. Then come the lawsuits, which could linger for years. Notably, McAuliffe was only in office for four months before throwing up his hands and deciding he needed to find ways around the legislature.

Bypassing lawmakers is a key part of the Obama playbook, but McAuliffe should think twice before trying it in Virginia. He lacks Obama’s personal likability, although even that is waning over time, and he can’t hide behind the claim that Medicaid expansion is particularly popular, since Virginians have soured on it. Moreover, he can’t credibly claim that expansion is a health priority since a growing number of studies show the program doesn’t improve health outcomes.

McAuliffe faces a July 1 deadline to resolve his standoff with the House of Delegates before there’s a government shutdown.