TALLAHASSEE — About one-quarter of the House Republican caucus gathered Monday night at a Tampa steak house to discuss the upcoming special session and the health care funding fight that hijacked the regular legislative session.
The meeting of nearly two dozen lawmakers was held at a Capital Grille, which is a chain of upscale steak houses. The tab was picked up by the Republican Party of Florida, which means no open meeting laws were violated because it was a political, not state, event. Party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, who is also a state representative from Spring Hill, was in attendance.
“We wanted to get together to catch up and say, ‘Hey, here is where we are at, and here is where some of the sticking points are,’” said House Budget Chief Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes. “I also let them know my guess about what the [special session] call would look like.”
House Republican Leader Dana Young of Tampa said the dinners are nothing out of the ordinary.
“It’s not unusual for us to get together for dinner, especially for a caucus our size,” she said. “It wasn’t all that exciting. It was social. It was about team building.”
“I can tell you it was far more social than it was substantive,” said state Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican.
Corcoran said members from Sarasota County up to Citrus County were there, with about 20 of the 81 House Republicans present. He said the meeting was for members to catch-up, and that no one was told how to vote on any potential special session issues, including a contentious Medicaid expansion plan crafted by the Senate.
“Despite what is written, we never do that,” Corcoran said about steering votes. “I tell members, ‘Don’t let the media, and don’t let the special interests sway your votes.’”
He said he addressed the four tables full of members for about seven minutes before everyone began eating.
State Rep. Dan Raulerson, a Plant City Republican and the party’s deputy whip, agreed that the dinner wasn’t about circling the wagons on the House majority’s opposition to Medicaid expansion.
“You’re going to be shocked,” he said. “The gist of the conversation was that, ‘You needed to vote your conscience and if you voted based on the facts, then that was going to be respected,’” he said.
“It was basically to make sure everybody understood that whichever way you went, no harm, no foul,” Raulerson said.
“There was no corralling or making sure people voted a certain way,” added Raulerson, first elected in 2012. “In fact, we were told, ‘You have to vote the way you think is right.’ ”
Raulerson, however, said no one voiced anything different from the GOP caucus’ stance in opposition to Medicaid expansion.
“I think we’re all in the same camp,” he said.
Young said there was no saber-rattling.
“The message was that freewill reigns in the Florida House, but that people need to make decisions based on facts and research and that we were there to help them if they had any questions,” she said.
The Legislature is headed into special session on June 1 after lawmakers failed to pass a state budget, in part, because of the disagreement over Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. The Senate set aside $2.8 billion to fund an expansion plan, but the House said it does not trust the federal government to fulfill its spending promises.
Under the plan, the state would draw down nearly $50 billion over eight years, while spending about $5 billion in state money over that time. Senators have argued that costs savings associated with their plan will washout the state’s funding obligation, while House Republicans have said Florida is donor state, meaning it already sends more tax dollars to the federal government than it receives.
On Wednesday, Corcoran held an all-day meeting with Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to continue negotiations. Both said it was “productive” meeting and they made progress toward reaching a budget compromise.
One day later, Gov. Rick Scott asked his agencies to prepare bare-bones budgets that would fund only their critical needs in the event that lawmakers can’t agree on a spending plan. Corcoran, though, called that a “plan B” and he said the Legislature would finalize a budget.
“Every day there is movement. Talks between staff are going well,” he said. “We will get there.”
Original article here.