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Health care costs Weatherford Democratic support of House budget

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s refusal to offer a plan in lieu of expanding Medicaid cost him votes on his biggest bill -- the state budget.

House Democrats on Wednesday voted against that chamber’s proposed $74.4 billion budget at its final stop before a floor vote. And they actually liked much of it, such as $1.3 billion increase on education spending.

All 10 Democrats voted against the spending plan. By contrast, the Senate’s six Democrats voted hours before in support of the Senate’s $74.3 billion budget. Unlike the House, the Senate is proposing an alternative to Medicaid expansion.

“An excellent job in some areas has been done,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale. “But my main concern is not what’s in the budget but what’s not in the budget. It fails to adequately protect the uninsured in the’s a budget that doesn’t recognize that many low income Floridians suffer from health and financial consequences and don’t have access to health care.”

Repeatedly, Democrats spoke of their gratitude for what was in the budget, especially the increase in education spending and a $1,400 across-the-board salary increase for state workers.

But the lack of a plan to address health care led them to vote against the plan -- reluctantly. Some who voted against it say they could support the budget later on the floor.

“This vote today is not an easy vote for me,” said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. “We did restore some things. Some folks, because we didn’t have enough to go around for everybody, didn’t get as much, but they got something. I don’t want my vote today to be taken as a slap in the face or a negative sign that it will always be this same vote.”

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, even hesitated before casting a no vote. Afterward, he said he liked the budget very much, and could support it depending on how it addresses the Affordable Health Care Act.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, who was more pointed in stating why he couldn’t vote for it, challenged Weatherford’s claim for changing the culture of the House GOP's all-or-nothing politics.

“We walked in to this process being told this was going to be a happier place, a bolder place, that there would be a new tone,” Pafford said. “I have to ask where that bold and courageous and wonderful tone ended up because what we did was spend more money. Which is fine, we spent it in a very good way. But we failed to be courageous. We dragged our feet, kicking and moaning for 18 months when it came to Medicaid expansion. We went to court over it.”

Republicans reacted strongly against the nays from the House Democrats.

“We have tried to be more inclusive than at any other time since i’ve been here,” said Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville. “We have reached out and not to have that hand clasped is quite frankly disappointing.”

Speaker designate Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, tweeted “Disappointed in partisan vote against fiscally sound budget that strongly supports education, health care, public safety & jobs.”

But afterward, Thurston said he was optimistic that an accord could be reached with House Republicans during the coming weeks. Weatherford has said he will be submitting a plan to provide more health care, but the only details he's provided is that it won’t involve expanding Medicaid.