RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After days of equivocation, Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli on Thursday called on Congress to reopen the federal government, then fight over whether to starve the new health care law of funding.
Cuccinelli told reporters after a Thursday-morning event that shuttering the government is not the right way for opponents of the 2010 Affordable Care Act to gain leverage to defeat the law he wants to see repealed.
"Strangling government to do this is not an appropriate course to go," said Cuccinelli, the state's attorney general.
Previously, he had said he opposed the government shutdown, but had refused to specify whether he supported efforts led by congressional Republicans to make passage of a temporary federal funding authorization bill contingent on stripping the health care law of the funding necessary to implement it. That subjected him to days of attacks from Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe and unflattering headlines.
"Holding one part of government hostage to another part, I don't think is a proper way to govern," said Cuccinelli, who in 2010 became the first state attorney general to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care law — passed solely by House and Senate Democratic majorities that controlled Congress at the time.
McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said Cuccinelli finally gave a definitive answer Thursday "only after taking a political beating."
The government shutdown has taken on special resonance in Virginia, where state officials estimate that perhaps one-third of the more than 170,000 federal employees could face furloughs. They say that the state's struggling recovery could suffer.
No state has a larger per-capita ratio of civilian and sworn military personnel from major defense installations. Virginia is home to the Pentagon and Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval station. A large number of military retirees also live in Virginia.
While Congress acted to ensure that those in military service are paid, some non-essential defense personnel are subject to unpaid furloughs. Besides that, other federal services deemed non-essential — including national parks, some block grants, the Women Infants and Children program that helps pregnant women and new mothers afford nutritious food and home-weatherization initiatives — are suspended.
Effects of the shutdown, particularly in the state's most populous and wealthy area neighboring Washington, D.C., prompted one state legislator Thursday to propose a special General Assembly session to enact a state law to bar Virginia courts from accepting or processing debt collection claims against furloughed federal workers.
Del. Robert G. Marshall's proposed legislation would also keep utilities from disconnecting electrical service for federal employees while they're not being paid. Marshall, whose Prince William County district has a large number of federal employees, asked Gov. Bob McDonnell, a fellow Republican, to convene an immediate special session. The governor's chief spokesman, J. Tucker Martin, said McDonnell had no plans to do so.
The politics of the federal shutdown had been particularly difficult for Cuccinelli, who campaigns Saturday with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the Senate's leading Republican advocate of using the stalemated budget fight to defund the health care law.
"Look, I have a lot of people supporting me across the spectrum," he said, noting a new television ad featuring Richmond school board member Tichi Eppes, a Democrat. "I haven't found a human being I agree with 100 percent of the time yet, but I haven't found one I don't agree with on something and we just try to build on those areas of unity and agreement."
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