by Paul Goldman
Chief Justice Roberts has just done VA Democrats a huge favor; namely, several ways to drive the policy and the politics of the Commonwealth in a very positive direction. As Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel correctly suggests in in today's Richmond Times Dispatch: the Supremes have just changed the health care metrics in Virginia. It is now reality time.
This being the case, the issue of whether to form a state health care insurance exchange - in short to allow certain Virginians to have greater access to a greater choice of health care options - or let Uncle Sam do it for us is now front and center as a pressing policy option. The law says Virginia must choose to go one way or the other, roughly by election day. Thus to use Mr. Hazel's construct, those who want to govern Virginia have to choose their reality.
1. BECOME A REPEALER. This is a time-honored Southern tradition for those who know the region's history. "Repeal Obamacare" is going to be, now more than ever, a GOP 2012 political war cry. The Governor and VA Republicans could therefore decide to do nothing relative to the state exchange option, preferring instead to hope for the voters to make "Obamacare" Dead Law Walking come the day after the election. But this puts politics above the duty to lead. Moreover, it ain't gonna happen.
The point being: The day after the election, the Repealers will be flat-footed, having wasted precious months and begging the very federal government they claim is irresponsible to save them from their own irresponsibility.
2. BLAME THE DOG FOR EATING THEIR HOMEWORK. Having been irresponsible, the Governor and his GOP posse will have to ask Uncle Sam for an extension of time to choose between the state or federal insurance exchange options. This is fiscally irresponsible, indeed irresponsible on many fronts, and hardly the approach needed to make the best decision for Virginia.
3. DO YOUR JOB. The Supreme Court has ruled. So like it or not, the state of Virginia is going to have to choose either to govern itself or become a ward of the federal government in the area of insurance exchanges, serving a huge number of our citizens. I thought that conservatives like the Governor believed in states rights? And I thought they believed that with rights go responsibilities?
CONCLUSION: VA Democrats need to whine less and act boldly more. Democrats must lead the fight for a state insurance exchange. If we need Washington to govern us on this, then why not just simply become the first state to do away with state government and let the folks in DC appoint our political leaders, just turn Virginia into one big federal plantation?
Virginia Democrats should demand Governor McDonnell create a bipartisan working committee of lawmakers, health policy experts, small business owners and average working families to develop options ready to be presented to the General Assembly at a Special Session in time to meet the timeline in the federal law.
We have a gubernatorial election in 2013. That is to say: We are choosing the next leader of Virginia. If the Republicans find the burden of governing too demanding, then it will be good for the public to learn this soon as possible, so they can take that into account in 2013. Oh, and if Republicans find the state exchange issue too difficult, imagine what is going to happen when Governor McDonnell has to decide on the issue of Medicaid expansion.
Surely the UVA mess taught a good lesson: the willingness of Democrats like David Toscano, Joe Morrissey, and of course Tim Kaine to push for decisive action can help move the process to a fast conclusion. Governing requires leaders to make decisions. Some are hard, some don't work out. But many are not difficult at all.
Choosing to govern ourselves instead of leaving it to Washington is a no-brainer for anyone in Virginia politics. Either you are for a Virginia exchange or you're for one run by the bureaucrats in the federal government. To paraphrase singer Laurie Morgan: "What is there about NO to Uncle Sam on this issue that you don't understand?"