Stalemate: Fla. GOP says Dems ‘grandstanding’ over single issue

TALLAHASSEE – Point made. Now, let’s get this session over with.

That was the message Tuesday from two key Republicans about House Democrats’ decision to slow down business in protest over the GOP’s refusal to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion under Obamacare.

Slowing floor action to a crawl, House Democrats under Minority Leader Perry Thurston invoked the state Constitution Tuesday to force line-by-line readings of bills before they could be discussed on the House floor.

“By purposefully slowing deliberations at this critical juncture, I and other House Democratic Caucus members seek to bring greater public attention to our desire for legislative passage of the health coverage expansion plan that the Florida Senate approved [Tuesday,]” Thurston said in a statement.

The maneuver marred what had so far been a reasonably congenial session, said state Rep. Dennis Baxley, a veteran legislator and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Tallahassee house
photo credit: Tampabay.com
By Mary Ellen Klas and Tia Mitchell, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Republican House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has made a point of reaching out to Democrats since the session opened, Baxley said.

“I’m certainly disappointed,” Baxley said. “This has been one of the most bipartisan administrations in the House I’ve ever dealt with.

If they want to accomplish nothing and grandstand, if they want to single-issue us, I guess that’s what they can do.”

Though the stalling tactic is getting attention, it won’t get the House GOP to change its mind, said freshman Rep. Travis Cumming, R-Orange Park.

“Our position is firm in terms of Medicaid expansion as we know it,” said Cummings, chief House spokesman for an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would increase insurance coverage for uninsured children.

And the delay won’t take away from a session that has seen the Legislature increase funding for education and approve pay raises for teachers and other state employees, along with other measures Democrats have favored, Baxley and Cummings said.

“To see some of these things occur is a little disappointing. It clearly produces some interest, and maybe a little drama,” Cummings said. “I don’t think it changes anything we’ve accomplished so far.”

Medicaid expansion, one of the most controversial issues of the session, doesn’t just divide Republicans and Democrats.

While the House GOP is firmly against it, the Republican-controlled Senate on Tuesday passed a plan sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, that would accept limited federal funding. Gov. Rick Scott, who once opposed a statewide Medicaid expansion, announced in February that he supports taking federal money for Florida.

House Republicans aren’t budging, though, Baxley and Cummings said. And with state revenues healthier than they’ve been in several years, Democrats should be satisfied with what they got out of the budget approved Monday, Baxley said.

“At some point, this broad expansion of entitlement has to stop,” he said. “Any other year, they’d be tickled pink.”

In his statement, Thurston urged Scott to be prepared to call a special legislative session to deal with Medicaid.

Cummings said he hadn’t heard about a special session proposal, but called it unlikely. If no agreement is reached by the end of the week, he said, lawmakers will take it up in the “off season.”

“We’ll continue the dialogue,” he said. “Such a discussion isn’t going to end with this session. It’s just a question of the discussion continuing after we leave Tallahassee.”

Baxley, who served in the House from 2000 to 2007 before reclaiming his seat in 2010, said a special session wouldn’t be productive.

“The perspective they’re demonstrating right now is not one of cooperation,” he said.

Meanwhile, both lawmakers said they hope Democrats drop the delay tactics.

“There’s a point where they’re going to have to decide whether this is about making a point or about altering the position of the majority caucus,” Cummings said.

“I think the speaker has been incredibly fair to the minority caucus.”

Baxley agreed.
“If they’d rather just make a political point and make a mess, that’s what they’ve got,” he said.

Joe Saunders

Joe Saunders, a 25-year newspaper veteran, is a staff writer and editor for BizPac Review who lives in Tallahassee and covers capital and Florida politics. Email Joe at [email protected].

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