NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Introduced as the youngest House speaker in America, Florida Rep. Will Weatherford used a speech Saturday before a large gathering of conservative activists to double down on a promise to reject a federal expansion of Medicaid.
"They're trying to buy us off, one by one, but I am not buying it," Weatherford said at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "Florida will not buy it and America should not buy it. We will stand up to their inflexible plan and we'll work on our own solution, one that better reflects the needs and priorities of our state. Here's the bottom line: It's time for the states to take a stand."
Weatherford, 33, was called to CPAC as part of a panel of 10 conservatives under 40 years old, designed to show off a youthful direction of the Republican Party. Connecticut state Sen. Art Linares, 24, said he was "inspired" in college by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — they share a Cuban heritage — and went to work for him in Washington before seeking public office.
"Marco was actually my first speaker and that's how I got to know him. But you got to know him as the man who beat Charlie Crist," Weatherford said as the crowd applauded. He suggested Crist, now a Democrat, should not run for governor but "go somewhere where his policies would be appreciated and embraced. I'm thinking the ambassador to Greece."
The Medicaid issue burst open a few weeks ago when Florida Gov. Rick Scott reversed his staunch opposition to say he supported one of the major planks of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Weatherford has already said he opposes the Medicaid expansion and Republicans in the Florida Senate agree. They say an alternative can be set up.
On Saturday, Weatherford bemoaned "cartel federalism" and said "states are being lured, and I would argue, coerced, into expanding programs like Medicaid and passing regulations not through federal mandate but with the promise of free money."
Weatherford talked about the power of state legislators to create "pockets of freedom" across the country and talked about education reform, such as school choice, in Florida. Of the state's balanced budget he said, "We're showing the federal government that you don't have to spend money that you don't have."
In an interview with reporters, Weatherford knocked down speculation he would challenge Scott, who is up for re-election in 2014, and he dodged a question of whether the governor's embrace of Obamacare makes him vulnerable among tea party conservatives who helped put him in office.
"That's kind of between him and them," Weatherford said. "We're going to work together to hopefully have a good session."
Weatherford signaled he intends to remain in politics after his term as speaker is up.
"I don't see myself being on a ballot in 2014," he said. But 2016? "You never say never, I've learned that."