Sunshine State News: Will Weatherford: Rick Scott’s Medicaid Embrace Isn’t an Obama Hug

It may be too early to count on the GOP abandoning Gov. Rick Scott in the 2014 gubernatorial contest just because there appears to be an open revulsion to his proposal to embrace the expansion on Medicaid in Florida.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, laughed off the suggestion that Scott’s Medicaid proposal is the governor’s “Obama hug” moment.

“I think the governor and I are working very closely on a lot of issues; he’s doing a good job for Florida, but that doesn’t mean we have to have unanimity on all issues,” said Weatherford on Thursday before an appearance at the Florida Retail Federation at the Hotel Duval in Tallahassee.

The GOP has often made light of former governor Charlie Crist’s literal embrace of President Obama during a visit in 2009.

The image of the hug was replayed often as Crist eventually moved from the GOP to continue his 2010 failed bid for U.S. Senate as an independent.

The campaign for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, portrayed the hug as more than a courtesy greeting, painting the embrace as support for the $767 billion in deficit spending.

When Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat endorsed Obama last August, Weatherford alluded to the hug during a speech at the Florida delegation breakfast as part of the Republican National Convention.

“I didn’t know a hug could be that powerful,” Weatherford said last August.

Now Weatherford, as with other GOP House leaders, remains skeptical of Scott’s stunning proposal on Wednesday that he would ask legislators to approve a bill that expands Medicaid for three years, as long as the program remains 100 percent funded by the federal government.

But he said he views Scott’s proposal as a “policy initiative.”

The proposal could add about 1 million people to the Medicaid rolls in Florida by expanding the eligibility to individuals and families earning up to 138 percent of poverty, a projection that has been estimated to cost Florida between $3 billion and $8.9 billion over the next decade — depending upon the source.

Weatherford deflected consideration about running for governor in 2014, saying he had enough on his plate at the moment running the House.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, while noting that it will only take one chamber of the legislature to block the state’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion, called Weatherford the “future of Florida” and potential occupant of the Governor’s Mansion.

“My political future is to host a fundraiser for Will Weatherford for governor,” Gaetz said. However before the comment could linger, Gaetz quickly added, “but not in 2014 probably. But soon thereafter.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, often called a future gubernatorial candidate, tweeted Thursday he was disappointed “to learn that Florida may take on billions in additional costs to taxpayers by expanding Medicaid coverage.”

“The expansion of Medicaid in FL does not create jobs or strengthen any. And it will cost Floridians $5B over the next 10 years,” Putnam added in a follow-up tweet.

Speaking to the Florida Retail Federation, Weatherford wouldn’t say how he’d vote, adding he expects to hear from his Select Committee on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act within 10 days on a direction for the House.

But he also gave a picture of where his skepticism comes from on the federal government’s proposal to cover the increased costs for three years.

“This is the same federal government that is going to argue for the next 30 to 60 days about whether or not they should raise the debt ceiling,” Weatherford said.

“This is the same federal government that is going to argue about whether or not we should have a sequester. This is the same federal government that will argue whether or not we should still spend $1.2 trillion more than we take in every single year.”

Earlier on Thursday, Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, reflected the comments of Weatherford in saying the Legislature must be measured in reviewing Scott’s proposal.

“Personally, I remain skeptical but that is the right position for the state to go in,” McKeel said Thursday morning.

The chairman of the select committee, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, had earlier stated that his committee “has and will continue to have separate discussions on that issue and will make a principled recommendation in the best interest of all Floridians.”

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