Editorial: Florida House turns its back on Floridians

Tampa Bay Times
Published Dec. 15, 2015

The Florida Senate will be in session this morning, debating public policy and passing legislation. The Florida House will be dark because its Republican leaders abruptly adjourned three days early in an arrogant power play over Medicaid expansion that they should not win. It is irresponsible, and it is an insult to Floridians who deserve better.

The surprise move by House Speaker Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island and his puppet master, Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, to shut down the chamber Tuesday reflects their callous attitude toward this state's most pressing issues. They are all about the hardball politics of pleasing the most extreme wing of the Republican Party, and they are willing to go to any lengths to avoid working with the Obama administration and creating health coverage for low-income Floridians.

To avoid embracing public policy supported by a Democratic president, these Florida House Republicans are willing to sacrifice their precious $690 million in tax cuts. They are willing to put in jeopardy another $600 million in electric rate cuts for Duke Energy customers. They are willing to give up on the House speaker's top priority, overhauling state water policy. They are taking their ball and going home to avoid accepting federal Medicaid expansion money, and their constituents should let them hear about it in the grocery store, at the mall and on the Little League fields.

Crisafulli and Corcoran could not bribe the Senate to give up on using federal Medicaid expansion money to insure more than 800,000 Floridians. They dangled $600 million in state money to solve a related issue regarding the Low Income Pool, an account used to help hospitals cover the cost of treating the uninsured. That would have partially made up for the federal money that will run out June 30, but it made absolutely no economic sense and the Senate wisely refused to be bought off.

The House Republican leaders cannot win the moral arguments for creating affordable health coverage for low-income Floridians. Corcoran defiantly tweets about his unwillingness to cover childless adults whom he views as undeserving because nearly half of those who would be covered may be unemployed — as if they are all jobless by choice. Pasco County's 6 percent unemployment rate is higher than the rate for Tampa Bay, Florida and the nation. Corcoran is turning his back on thousands of his own constituents.

The economic arguments also are not in favor of the House's rigid opposition. The Obama administration reasonably indicates it is not going to keep sending $1.3 billion a year to the Low Income Pool to cover expensive hospital visits by the uninsured. Many of those Floridians could receive less costly preventive care covered by private insurance that would be paid by Medicaid expansion dollars. The Legislature's chief economist also estimates that Florida taxpayers would save more than $1.2 billion over five years on existing health care costs if lawmakers accepted the federal Medicaid expansion money under the Senate's proposal. Yet House Republicans have abandoned their traditional call for government efficiency and fiscal responsibility in their fervor to fight Washington regardless of the consequences to Florida.

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The reality is the Medicaid expansion and Low Income Pool issues were not going to be solved by Friday, the scheduled end of the regular legislative session. And on a positive note, the House's decision to cut and run leaves the state better off because plenty of bad legislation will die, including Cris-afulli's water bill. A special legislative session to agree on a state budget will have a limited agenda, so there will be less opportunity for mischief.

But the House Republicans' decision to leave Tallahassee early will not play well, including among many pragmatic members of their own party who support accepting the federal Medicaid expansion money. The real leaders in the Legislature are Senate President Andy Gardiner of Orlando and his team, including Republican Sens. Tom Lee of Brandon and Jack Latvala of Clearwater. They are standing up for fiscal sanity and hundreds of thousands of uninsured Floridians who deserve health coverage — and they should hold firm no matter how long it takes for unreconstructed House Republicans to see the light.