Florida House picks up its toys and goes home over Medicaid money

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With no end in sight to an impasse with the State Senate over Medicaid expansion, Republican State House Speaker Steve Crisafulli decided the best thing to do was GTFO three days before their session was supposed to end, letting Medicaid expansion, the state budget and a slew of other bills hang in the balance.

Crisafulli declared sine die for the Florida House early Tuesday afternoon to avoid the Senate, which wanted to have a nice conversation about the state's impending billion-dollar budget gap.

That gap is due to disappearing federal Low Income Pool (LIP) funds that reimburse hospitals that treat the un- and underinsured, a gap that could be easily covered by accepting federal money to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (or, as critics may call it, filthy commie Obummercare dollars).

"I do not see a need to keep all of you here waiting around, away from your families and your businesses until the Senate decides they are ready to negotiate," Crisafulli said, according to the News Service of Florida. "I will communicate with you as soon as we have a more realistic path for getting into budget conference...I believe that a reset and a clean slate is the best way for us to accomplish that goal."

House Democrats weren't happy about being dismissed early.

“It's just really kind of a continuation of the big game of chicken that leadership is playing with the Senate to no benefit to the people,” said State Rep. Dwight Dudley, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “We know that LIP goes away unless we expand Medicaid. Leadership thinks that they're going to magically make it happen. I don't think it's going to happen.”

But given how FUBAR things have been this session, they're not exactly surprised, either.

"After the chaos that House Republicans stirred this Session, today's developments should be no surprise," wrote Tampa Democratic Rep. Janet Cruz in a tweet. "Instead of working together for the people of Florida, they threw a tantrum. This is the Florida House not grade school. So disappointed."

Dudley said the big irony in all of this is that federal dollars constitute a third of the state's budget. And without LIP or ACA dollars, the state will have to close the gap somehow (probably by screwing the poor in some other way instead).

“That can really get into the muscle and bone,” Dudley said. “I guess everything's fair game to fill the hole, or a lot's fair game and none of it's pretty.”

Now lawmakers have to figure out when they can all meet in Tallahassee for a special session in which they can pass a budget, which they are required by the state constitution to do by June 30.

"On this day, I can't help walking out of the chamber feeling disappointed and a bit ashamed," said Lake Worth area Democratic State Rep. Dave Kerner. "Once again, partisanship has hurt our state. It makes no matter that the fight is between Republican chambers, and not between Republicans and Democrats. I remain hopeful that we can bridge the gap upon our return."

Needless to say, groups that have been lobbying lawmakers hard to pass a bill accepting the money are pissed.

"We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the House leaders, while still on the taxpayers' payroll, chose to abandon their post with critical legislation still to be addressed. In the private sector, this would be grounds for dismissal," said Dierdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, a group that has been fighting for Medicaid expansion for months.

North Pinellas Republican Senator Jack Latvala said shutting down session with quite a few bills left on the table might have a consequence lawmakers would actually care about: pissing off lobbyists.

"Maybe they'll be a little more careful on their contributions," Latvala said, according to Florida Trend reporter Jason Garcia. "Maybe they'll give to individual members instead of giving to the parties or to leaders' committees."

Some activists did see a silver lining in that some of the nuttier prospective bills that were on the table and looking likely to pass are now dead, at least for the moment.

For example, people who think guns on college campuses are a bad idea are pretty happy that a bill allowing concealed carry on the premises of public universities is now dead in the water.

"This important victory today could not have happened without the broad support of Floridians and demonstrates that the will of the people seeking safe campus communities prevailed over a wrongheaded policy that would have forced guns onto Florida’s campuses,” said Andy Pelosi, executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus, in a written statement.

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