WASHINGTON — Gov. Rick Scott came face-to-face with his nemesis — President Barack Obama — and what did he do? Blast the new health care law, bash government spending?
Scott turned and smiled.
Like other guests at a black-tie affair at the White House on Sunday evening, Scott got a keepsake picture with the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
But at the dinner table, where the nation's governors ate scallops with spiced mango chutney, coconut sorbet and sipped fine wine, an administration official tried to warm up Scott on high-speed rail.
Obama made the appeal himself to the group Monday and jabbed, not-so-subtly, about "partisan politics" getting in the way of one of his top priorities.
"This hasn't traditionally been a partisan issue," Obama told the governors. "Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a civil war. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything."
Scott remains unmoved.
"I'm still not convinced that the taxpayers of Florida are not on the hook," he said afterward, echoing what he has repeatedly said since rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funds for an 84-mile line connecting Orlando and Tampa.
Rail backers are trying to change Scott's mind before the end of the week, the deadline set by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. Chances remain dim, though some lawmakers in Tallahassee may file a lawsuit to block Scott, contending he is overstepping his authority.
Scott had been in Washington since Friday, attending meetings of Republican governors then weekend sessions with the National Governors Association.
Though he has been one of Obama's biggest critics, Scott left the capital Monday with something to feel good about. Obama said he is open to plans to create more flexibility under the health care law and called on governors to come up with some ideas.
Scott joined with other Republican governors in calling for Medicaid to be restructured as a block grant program that would give states more leeway.
Scott is also seeking a waiver from the federal government so he can open up Medicaid to more managed care programs.
Said Obama to the governors, "If your state can create a plan that can cover as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does, without increasing the deficit, you can implement that plan and we'll work with you to do it."
Scott will be back in Washington Tuesday as part of an effort to promote Florida tourism.
Alex Leary can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter@learyspt.