Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford laid out a menu of top priorities during his inaugural speech for the 2013 session on Tuesday -- changes in the state’s ethics and campaign finance laws, pension reform.
But he saved the climax of his speech for the one issue he said would be the most challenging issue facing lawmakers this session -- the expansion of Medicaid.
“I know this is a very difficult issue,” Weatherford said. “Passions will run high and principles will clash within this chamber.”
Weatherford told the chamber about his brother Peter, who died in 1995 of cancer when he was 18 months and Weatherford was 15.
“First of all, let me say, I believe in the safety net.
My family has benefitted from the safety net.
As many of you know, I grew up in a family of nine children. My father was self-employed and did the best he could to provide for us but we never had health insurance.
We could never afford health insurance.
My baby brother Peter was diagnosed with cancer when he was 13 months old. He was in and out of the hospital for seven months.
My Mom and Dad basically lived at the Ronald McDonald House - because they couldn't afford to stay in a hotel.
After two major surgeries, Peter lost his battle with cancer and my father found himself with a mountain of medical bills that he could never afford to pay.
It was the safety net that picked my father up.
It was the safety net that picked my family up.
I will continue to believe in - and fight for - a strong safety net for Florida.”
It wasn’t clear from the speech what safety net helped Weatherford’s father pay those medical bills. Weatherford didn’t say.
Instead, he concluded, that too much government was necessarily a bad thing.
“But Members, I also firmly believe that a government that grows too big, becomes too intrusive, and fosters too much dependency will threaten our liberty, our freedom and our prosperity.
Members -- I am opposed to Medicaid expansion because I believe it crosses the line of the proper role of government
I believe it forces Florida to expand a broken system that we have been battling Washington to fix, and I believe it will ultimately drive up the cost of health care.
This inflexible plan, thrust upon us by the federal government, is not aimed at strengthening the safety net.
It pushes a social ideology at the expense of our future.
The trouble with this social experiment is that it is destined for failure.
The notion that we're going to receive free money from the federal government is laughable.
This is the same federal government that has not passed a budget in nearly four years.
This is the same federal government that spends 1.2 trillion dollars more than it takes in in every year.
Florida is being tempted with empty promises to comply with policies we would never pay for
if we knew the true cost.
They're trying to buy off states one by one.
I am not buying it. Florida should not buy it.
Because their failure to deliver has such high stakes for Floridians.
If they get this wrong, we are on the hook.
It would be far easier for me, and for us, to simply say yes to the so called "free money," enjoy the accolades for a few years, and leave office knowing that the true cost will come
due long after we're gone.
It's not right, and it's not what I signed up for.
Members, as you can tell, I have my opinion on this matter, and you will have yours... I look forward to the debate on this floor.”
Like Scott, Weatherford used a personal story about the a family member to illustrate his thoughts on Obamacare. In Scott’s case, it was a younger brother’s degenerative hip and the medical costs associated with treating it.
But Scott said that nudged him closer to accepting the expansion of Medicaid, sharing that he knew what it was like not to be able to afford health care.
Weatherford’s comments went the other way. His shunning of government surprised Democrats, who have been optimistic that unlike his predecessor, Dean Cannon, Weatherford would work more with the opposing party.
“I’m glad he understood the need for a safety net,” said Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek. “I’m very disappointed though in the position he’s taken on Medicaid expansion. I think it’s very clear that the federal government is going to cover the cost 100 percent for the first three years. There should be no mistake about that. And any money we don’t spend here in the state of Florida is going to go to some other state.”
Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, has been a supporter of Weatherfords. Even he said he was disappointed by the tone of Weatherford’s comments about Obamacare.
“I had hoped for a softer stand,” Rouson said. “He did say he looked forward to a debate, but when the Speaker speaks strongly of his opinion, it’s pretty persuasive to the membership. That’s the only thing that cast a pall over his remarks. Having said that, I expect Will to really shine with bipartisanship.”