In an arrogant display of legislative malpractice, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, unilaterally ended the 60-day annual session of the Legislature on Tuesday. The sudden development leaves Florida’s finances in disarray and its residents fed up.
Mr. Crisafulli’s abrupt decision to abandon Tallahassee before lawmakers could complete their lone legislative obligation — enacting a budget — came with little warning, three days before the scheduled end. The Senate was left with a passel of unfinished business. It should not react in a similar high-handed fit of vengeful pique. There is still work to do on legislation already passed up to the Senate by the House.
(One measure that deserves Senate approval is a broad reform of the way Florida deals with victims of mental illness. Among other strides, it creates a mental-health court; gives judges authority over outpatient treatment for those charged with misdemeanors and deemed incompetent — people often released back to the streets; and gives more help to challenged veterans.)
Florida residents should be outraged by Rep. Crisafulli’s hissy fit, which was inspired by a dispute with the Senate over Medicaid expansion, a critical healthcare issue for the entire state that pits practical action and legislative compromise against political dogma.
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Expansion would allow Florida to claim federal money to provide healthcare for 850,000 uninsured residents who must otherwise rely on charity care at public hospitals. For years, the federal government has rewarded these hospitals by providing billions of dollars from a program known as LIP, designed for hospitals that treat low-income or indigent patients. Enactment of the Affordable Care Act meant this program was due for significant changes, however, because Medicaid expansion under the new law would cover many of the previously uninsured patients.
For Florida, whose LIP contract expires June 1, this would mean a loss of funding that leaves a $1.3 billion hole in the budget of Florida’s public hospitals. Miami-Dade’s Jackson Health System would lose $200 million a year. Taxpayers would have to ante up.
The Florida Senate, controlled by Republicans, as is the House, decided that the state could no longer indulge the political silliness of rejecting Medicaid expansion just because it’s part of Obamacare. The upper chamber devised a free-market alternative expansion plan that could win federal approval and provide the state with more than $50 billion over a 10-year period to cover more people under Medicaid.
Mr. Crisafulli, however, won’t budge. He even made the astonishing admission Tuesday that since he would never vote for Medicaid expansion himself, he would never let the House members vote on it either. So much for democracy!
The speaker offered to amend the House’s budget proposal to kick in $600 million or so to cover the lost LIP funding to public hospitals, or less than half of what would be lost when the federal program expires. His offer came in a letter to the Senate, without details to show what other programs would be robbed — Education? Agriculture? Infrastructure? — to pay for the healthcare offer.
Mr. Crisafulli made a lame attempt to blame the Senate for the budget impasse by failing to negotiate a deal. In truth, the Senate should be commended for not taking the bait. The real obstacle to a solution is the stubborn refusal of a band of House Republicans to consider anything related to Obamacare, out of pure political spite.