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Steve Bousquet: Medicaid creates a divided Florida House

House Speaker Will Weatherford can't have it both ways.

The Wesley Chapel Republican's role model is his father-in-law, Allan Bense, who set the modern standard for bipartisanship as speaker.

Much in the mold of Bense, Weatherford has sought to work cooperatively with Democrats with a minimum of partisanship.

But Weatherford also likes to fire up a CPAC conference or an Americans for Prosperity rally with red-meat talk about why Florida should not take federal billions to expand Medicaid and cover a million more uninsured Floridians.

That two-sided approach simply won't work, as Weatherford discovered last week in a quick end to the kumbaya moments of his first session as speaker.

All 10 Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee voted against the GOP's budget, even though it has features Democrats like, such as raises for teachers and state workers, and is generously sprinkled with taxpayer-funded member projects.

To hear Weatherford describe it, he tried to be a good guy and Democrats threw it in his face.

"I think it's disappointing," he said. "If they choose to vote no for an issue that doesn't have anything to do with the budget, that's on them. … Bipartisanship is a two-way street. You can't have bipartisanship with only one party reaching out to the other."

The speaker was upset that Democrats agreed in advance to use the budget to make a statement of opposition over Medicaid.

Weatherford sees Medicaid as an issue separate from the budget. Democrats see Medicaid as the budget issue — its single-most glaring omission.

"The budget is a reflection of our policy and our priorities," said House Democratic Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation. "One of the things that we think is a main issue of this session is not included. If it's not included, we're not going to be supportive of it."

Thurston called it "a disgrace" that House Republicans may turn away billions in federal Medicaid money that other GOP states are taking.

A partisan flare-up also occurred in the Senate last week as Democratic Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, persisted in trying to mandate 14 days of early voting. Republicans prevailed with a bill that mandates eight and gives county elections officials the option of up to 14.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, was visibly angry with Smith and said so. Smith held his ground and lost.

"We can do better," Smith said Monday. "This bill is all right. But all right isn't good enough when you're in Florida and it's about voting."

As for the budget, later this week the full 120-member House will debate and adopt it, with most, if not all, Democrats voting no.

Which sets the stage for Republicans to not lift a finger to protect Democratic projects in a budget that Democrats oppose. But it also makes it disingenuous for Democrats to claim credit for pay raises in a budget they vote against.

Taking a firm stand on principle is a good thing. Once it's taken, there's no turning back.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Steve Bousquet: Medicaid creates a divided Florida House 04/08/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 10:17am]
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