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Politics / Issues

Weekly Roundup: Rick Scott, Jeb, FHIX Flops

State Legislature

As lawmakers wrestled with a health-care Gordian knot in Tallahassee this week, Gov. Rick Scott held court over a Republican who's who in the land where dreams come true and where Jeb Bush emerged a home-state hero.

And, after the week dragged on with no sign that House and Senate leaders had reached consensus on a $4 billion spending breach centered on health care for poor and low-income Floridians, Tinkerbell and her magic pixie dust finally made the 260-mile trek north.

The House erupted in cheers Friday afternoon when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli announced that he and Senate President Andy Gardiner had reached agreement on broad budget allocations and that negotiations on a detailed spending plan would begin Saturday morning.

The speaker's declaration came as House Republicans spent hours raising questions about the Senate's proposal to provide private health care coverage to between 350,000 and 800,000 uninsured Floridians, depending on who's counting.

Gertrude Stein may have summed up the solution, or lack of one: "There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. That's the answer."

While House and Senate Republicans remain bitterly divided over the health care issue, the Republicans who showed up at an Orlando summit hosted by Scott were united on at least one front --- their unwavering adulation of Scott, who peeled off his awkward mask and showed that --- in front of an adoring crowd, at least --- the governor is comfortable in his own skin.


The Senate overwhelmingly approved its answer to the health care crisis on Wednesday, with just three Republicans voting against the plan to use Medicaid expansion funding from the Affordable Care Act --- commonly known as "Obamacare" --- to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance.

Senators tried to open an avenue for negotiations over the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange, or FHIX, suggesting that some health-care reforms House leaders have pushed could be added to the bill and approved by the Senate. The House is looking to revamp insurance coverage for state workers and overhaul some longstanding health-industry regulations.

But, for all of its new provisions, House Republicans argued that the Senate's plan remained Medicaid expansion --- vigorously opposed by the House GOP and Scott --- in disguise. After seven hours of debate Friday, the House rejected the plan.

"If the plan is dependent on the 90 percent federal match rate outlined in the ACA (Affordable Care Act), and it's a requirement that we serve the exact population defined by the ACA, would you not agree that this plan is truly Medicaid expansion as envisioned by the ACA?" Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, asked Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, during floor discussions about the bill (SB 2A) on Thursday.

In response to one of the House's chief reasons for resisting the Senate's plan --- that the federal government is an unreliable funding partner and might withdraw from its promise to bankroll at least 90 percent of any Medicaid expansion plan -- Sen. Don Gaetz noted that the House's budget proposal includes $16.4 billion in health-care funding and $24.4 billion overall from federal sources.

"Those who say that they don't want federal money or don't want to take federal money --- that train has left the station a long time ago," said Gaetz, R-Niceville. "They've lost their virginity on that issue."


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was crushed by a media scrum after being the last GOP presidential wannabe to address a gathering of more than 400 of the state's corporate honchos at an economic summit called by Scott.

Bush received two standing ovations and the warmest welcome of the six candidates --- all current or former Republican governors --- who showed up in person to make their pitches in a precursor to the coming months in the Sunshine State, a coveted electoral prize.

Bush, who is expected to announce his official entrée into the race on June 15, repeatedly said that he is "not a candidate" but delivered what by all accounts was a stump speech Tuesday afternoon before telling reporters that he is "nearing the end of the journey" about making a decision regarding entering the race.

"There's a lot of support for a more-hopeful, optimistic message. So hopefully I'll make my decision relatively soon. My expectation, my hope is I'll be a candidate. I really do," Bush said.

Bush said he "won't be the last guy in" and is "pretty excited about the prospect" of running for president. He also joked about what is expected to be a crowded GOP field.

"It's a rambunctious deal. We've got 75 people running," Bush said. "There's going to be some elbows and knees under the boards. This isn't tiddlywinks we're playing."

The former governor was unapologetic about the "Bush" name, which is viewed by some as a liability in a country that has already seen two Bush presidencies.

"I'll use my brother, my sister, every relative, every person I can," Bush told FOX News personality Neil Cavuto during a taping at the Disney Yacht & Beach Club Convention Center, where Scott's summit was held.


Scott left fans and critics alike buzzing about what appeared to be a new and improved, clearly comfortable Scott, a sharp contrast from the man who has been mocked over the past four years for his awkward demeanor and frustrating penchant for responding to reporters with talking points seemingly unrelated to the question at hand.

Appearing on stage with Politico's Mike Allen and Marc Caputo for a lunchtime conversation, a relaxed Scott charmed the audience. Aside from fielding questions about foreign trade and his CEO-approach to governing, Scott joked about his workout regimen, boasted about his grandkids and swapped fishing tales, easily coaxing laughs and applause from the crowd.

Scott laughingly sidestepped a question about whether the Legislature --- back in Tallahassee for the special session on the budget --- is dysfunctional.

"Well, if they pass my tax cuts and give me my education money, I love them," he said to an audience munching on lo mein, grilled-cheese sandwiches and root-beer floats.

Scott's performance didn't surprise supporters who've witnessed the former health-care executive's affability in small crowds or in one-on-one visits.

But many agreed it was the first time his off-camera persona shone through in public.

"That's how he really is most of the time, and his level of discomfort comes with large groups of people he doesn't know, or crowds, and press gaggles," said Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. "I think he was in his element. He's been in a leadership role for a very long time … and he was amongst a room full of leaders. … I think he was just extremely comfortable with the room. That was him shining through. It wasn't a retrained or a retooled Rick Scott."

It wasn't just Scott's star power that drew attendees to the event, organized by Scott and his "Let's Get to Work" political committee without the assistance of the Republican Party of Florida.

"You literally have the ability to fund a presidential campaign in this room," Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard noted.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I think we have three political parties in Tallahassee -- the Republicans, the Democrats and the Senate."---Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

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