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Florida's congressional Democrats talk Medicare -- without Republicans

Florida's congressional delegation has traditionally banded together on such issues as hurricane insurance, NASA, transportation spending and the Everglades -- relatively nonpartisan topics that have an effect on most of the state's population.

But Medicare is no longer one of those issues, despite Florida's large senior population. Polarizing election year politics and the federal spending debate have changed what used to be an untouchable issue in Florida.

Democratic Reps. Alcee L. Hastings of Miramar, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, and Frederica Wilson of Miami met Thursday to talk about Medicare -- without the Republicans in the Florida delegation. They haven't met all together since early 2011.

The five Democrats (Rep. Corinne Brown of Jacksonville was not present) heard from several health care experts about proposed changes to the program.

Hastings, the Democratic chairman of the delegation, said his aim for Thursday morning's meeting was "to highlight the importance of Medicare to Florida, and the impact of Medicare changes on Florida's beneficiaries."

"I believe our colleagues on the other side should have an equal concern," Hastings said.

But the Democrats were political, too. Wasserman Schultz, who serves as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said her Republican colleagues were focused less on seniors and Medicare than on "one job, in one house, down the street."

And Wilson told the group they need to come up with some buzz words that warn seniors about proposed Republican changes to Medicare under the budget offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

Hastings said after the meeting that he had invited Florida's congressional Republicans. Until early 2011, they had been meeting monthly on bipartisan issues for two decades, Hastings said.

He said he doesn't exactly miss the monthly 8:30 a.m. meetings. But he does miss some of the bonhomie they used to enjoy. "Let's don't pretend there's great harmony in the Florida delegation," he said.

Florida's congressional Democrats talk Medicare -- without Republicans