Romano: A shameful week in Tallahassee, with blame for all

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R- Orlando, Garrett Richter, R- Naples, Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, and Tom Lee, R- Brandon, huddle Wednesday in the Florida Senate. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R- Orlando, Garrett Richter, R- Naples, Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton, and Tom Lee, R- Brandon, huddle Wednesday in the Florida Senate. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published May 3, 2015

This is bad: Republicans in the state House turned their backs on Floridians by shutting their doors in order to make a political statement on Obamacare. This might be worse: Democrats in Florida chose to widen the divide by immediately turning the House rift into a campaign issue through mailers and robocalls.

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Somewhere along the line, our leaders lost their way.

They became too consumed with wins and losses. They learned to measure themselves not by the good they did, but by the opponents they crushed.

And that perverted mind-set goes a long way toward explaining what might be one of the most shameful weeks Tallahassee has ever known.

The governor sued the federal government. The Senate sued the House. The House ended its session early, and the governor spent the week cutting proverbial ribbons at the openings of a carnival ride and a convenience store.

Meanwhile, our lawmakers continued to jeopardize billions of dollars in federal funds as well as the physical well-being of hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents because, unlike a majority of other states, they cannot come to agreement on a health care plan.

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This is bad: Senate Democrats went to court to force House members back to the Capitol. This is worse: While criticizing the Senate court action, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, mocked the intelligence of two black senators on Twitter.

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Civility was not the only casualty in Florida's political war over health care.

Perspective was also bludgeoned, along with honesty. And for a large number of Republicans in the state House, integrity may have been sacrificed too.

You see, this is an issue where many once stood in agreement.

A few years ago, Republicans and Democrats alike understood the health care status quo was untenable. It was unproductive for patients' health and unwise fiscally to continue treating uninsured residents in hospital emergency rooms.

Even the most conservative members of the Legislature acknowledged this. Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, rejected traditional Medicaid expansion in 2013 but said there were alternatives that could better serve Florida.

Back then, Corcoran and other Republicans insisted Medicaid was a broken system, and said private insurance would work better. They predicted the federal government would eventually renege on funding and leave states on the hook for bills. They said low-income residents should bear some responsibility for payments. And they complained that the feds were not giving states any flexibility.

So the Senate came up with a plan that used private insurers, required residents to pay a portion of the premium and co-pays, and allowed the state to opt out if the federal government did not follow through with funding. As for flexibility, the feds have approved similar private-insurance options in several other states.

In other words, every House concern was addressed. And yet members remained adamantly opposed. They manufactured new complaints and, despicably, they purposefully mischaracterized the Senate proposal.

The regrettable conclusion?

They are no longer fit to be called public servants. Their main objective is political sabotage, and they do not seem to care how many innocent people are hurt in the fallout.

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This is bad: Gov. Rick Scott, who constantly complains about excessive taxes, has sued the federal government to get tax money for uncompensated hospital care. This is worse: In its crusade to provide health care to needy people, the Obama administration has been threatening to withhold funding that is needed by the exact people they're supposedly trying to help.

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It is fair to say few have come out of this with reputations intact.

Scott has been pathetically absent as a leader. Presumably the top Republican in the state, he has been unable to get his own party to agree on a direction for more than two years. And perhaps that is fitting, since he has twice changed his own mind, conveniently veering toward moderation in the months before an election and then swinging back toward the tea party afterward.

House Republicans have been revealed as political hucksters, more interested in defeating anything associated with the president than actually serving voters.

And Democrats have too often ceded the high road by launching partisan attacks instead of taking advantage of Republican dysfunction to forge a deal.

You often hear that our leaders in Washington are inept, and the policies of the federal government are bad.

Yeah, well, I say Florida is worse.