Saturday, February 24, 2018
Politics

Attacks on Gov. Rick Scott mask Adam Putnam's own spending record

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's headline-grabbing criticism of fellow Republican Rick Scott over expanding Medicaid highlighted just how much the governor flip-flopped on government spending and entitlement programs.

But Putnam has a more extensive record of supporting expensive entitlements and big-government spending.

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2011, Putnam voted for budget-busting legislation — including the massive Medicare prescription-drug entitlement program estimated to cost nearly $1 trillion over a decade. Putnam also stuffed the federal budget with hometown-spending and helped override vetoes by President George W. Bush on what the White House called a "fiscally irresponsible" Medicare bill and a $300 billion farm bill.

Now, years later, Putnam called Scott's call to expand Medicaid irresponsible, costly and "naive."

"Throughout my career as a public servant, I have fought for issues important to Floridians based on my belief in conservative values and smaller government," Putnam said in a written statement.

"I have a strong record of supporting economic growth and ensuring taxpayer dollars are used to support valuable public programs and services," he said, implicitly drawing a distinction between the Medicare program he voted to expand in 2003 and Scott's request to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law, which Putnam opposed in Congress in 2009.

The fallout between Scott and Putnam stoked speculation that Putnam might challenge Scott in a GOP primary next year. Putnam's office downplayed the talk.

The GOP discord — as well as the tensions between each man's rhetoric and record — is also emblematic of President Barack Obama-era Republican struggles. Many Republicans spent big under Bush then became deficit hawks under Obama. They railed against Obama policies, only to tacitly support some of them in the end.

Putnam said his opposition to Obamacare has been consistent.

Scott's hasn't.

Scott's Feb. 20 call to expand Medicaid was an abrupt about-face for a man who campaigned against Obamacare — first as a private citizen, then as a candidate for governor. With low and stagnant poll numbers, Scott's move was widely seen in Tallahassee political circles as a political move to the center.

Putnam, voicing widespread GOP concerns over Scott, struck quickly in a speech, media interviews, Web postings and even a Republican Party of Florida email.

"I think we all have an obligation to look beyond the window of our own time in public life and think about the long-term impact of these policies in Florida," Putnam told the Tampa Bay Times days after Scott's Medicaid announcement.

The criticisms — about thinking long-term and leaving politics behind — were said years ago, in 2003, by conservative leaders who practically begged Capitol Hill Republicans like Putnam not to expand Medicare under Bush for political gain.

The Medicare vote was crucial to Bush's 2004 re-election, especially in senior-heavy Florida where he often talked up all the freebies seniors would get.

Putnam on his campaign website in 2008 described the measure as a way to save money — not for taxpayers but for seniors.

Scott spoke about the human face of Medicaid: poor, working-class people like his mother, Esther, who had struggled to raise five children, including one who fell ill and had no insurance.

Scott has asked the GOP-led Legislature to sign off on it, provided the federal government picked up 100 percent of the new cost for three years, estimated right now at $6.7 billion.

After three years, the state would have to start picking up an increasing share of the program and Florida would evaluate whether or not to continue, Scott said.

"Our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying health care to our citizens, or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other health care reforms," Scott said.

Putnam had used a variation of a fair-share argument in describing why he opposed another Obama program, the stimulus, only to later ask the Obama administration to grant Florida a waiver to qualify for millions in education money.

Putnam also called the stimulus a "miserable failure" at the time.

But, years later as agriculture commissioner, his Office of Energy issued a report that had positive things to say about the stimulus. Scott also campaigned against the stimulus, but his first budget was lined with $370 million in stimulus money.

When it came to the federal budget, Putnam joined his other congressional colleagues in "earmarking" — directing federal spending to a hometown or pet project. From 2008 to 2010 Putnam accounted for more than $49 million in earmarks, according to the Congressional Pig Book compiled by the group Citizens Against Government Waste.

"It's difficult to run as a fiscal conservative in the present climate while embracing earmarks," said Sean Kennedy, director of research for the group.

During Putnam's time in Congress, the national debt increased overall from almost $5.8 trillion to more than $14 trillion, with nearly 60 percent of the increase occurring in the Bush years. The debt is now $16.7 trillion.

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