POLITICS

GOP Straight Up Bribes Democratic Senator In Effort To Block Obamacare

06/08/2014 09:03 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2014

The Republican Party in Virginia has resorted to what appears to be outright bribery in its ongoing effort to deny low-income residents in the state access to the Medicaid expansion authorized by Obamacare.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Republicans offered to move Democratic state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett and his daughter into prestigious jobs in exchange for Puckett's resignation, which will flip the chamber into Republican hands. Puckett officially accepted the offer on Monday, but then appeared to back away amid a public outcry.

The Senate was on course to pass an expansion of Medicaid, as the law allows, while the House of Delegates, in GOP hands, aimed to block it. In such a scenario, Democrats hoped that Republicans would be blamed for the resulting government shutdown. With Republicans in control of both chambers, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) must now veto the GOP budget in order to force a showdown over Medicaid.

The apparent quid pro quo has sent Democrats railing.

"It's astounding to me. The House Republican caucus will do anything and everything to prevent low-income Virginians from getting healthcare ... They figure the only way they could win was to give a job to a state senator," Delegate Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Washington Post. "At least they can't offer Terry McAuliffe a job. I hope Terry continues to stand up to these bullies."

McAuliffe campaigned on the promise of Medicaid expansion in 2013. Since his election, Republicans have attempted to stonewall his attempts to bring coverage to 400,000 uninsured Virginians, prompting the governor to explore options for expanding Medicaid without the approval of the state legislature.

As many as 20,000 of Puckett's southwest Virginia constituents could be eligible for the Medicaid expansion. His district is so poor that residents have overwhelmed free medical clinics.

McAuliffe told The Washington Post that Puckett's resignation only adds "uncertainty" to his plan for expanding coverage.

"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," McAuliffe said. "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."

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D) told HuffPost on Monday that he was shocked by Puckett's resignation. "Phil struck you as a guy who was a man of his word, the opposite of a shady character," he said. "If he was with you he was with you, and if he wasn't, he wasn't, and let you know."

Petersen said that Puckett's daughter had been an issue in Richmond for months, if not a year, as Republicans were holding up her reappointment, arguing that having a father as a state senator represented a conflict of interest. "I do remember specific conversations with Phillip [in which he said,] 'I'm not gonna get blackmailed on my daughter," said Petersen.

He noted that it was strange Puckett has not addressed the accusations either privately or publicly, even though news of the scandal broke Sunday night. Petersen said he's waiting for more information before jumping to a conclusion, but added that he couldn't think of any plausible explanation other than the one being circulated.

"If the session was over and he had a family issue ... that would be explicable. It would still be unusual to not serve out your term," he said. "But to resign during the middle of the budget negotiation with so much on the line, that's not normal."

UPDATE: 6/9 -- The Washington Post reported Monday afternoon that Puckett has taken himself out of the running for a job with the state tobacco commission. State Republicans had offered Puckett the position of deputy director of the commission reportedly in exchange for his resignation from the state Senate.

Tim Pfohl, an official at the tobacco commission, told HuffPost a hiring meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been canceled.

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