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Bob Sparks: Shutdowns, Obamacare and July special sessions

Next week the Florida Legislature returns for an overtime session to fulfill their sole constitutional requirement of passing a budget. Not a Washington budget, but one where bean counters must have the same number of beans on the expense side as well as the revenue side.

Conversations containing the word “shutdown” have gained a little momentum in recent days. Doomsayers from both parties, including Gov. Rick Scott, have offered their views on the dire effects of failing to reach a budget agreement.

“(I)t is possible that Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and the Florida Senate will not agree to any budget without the specific expansion of Medicaid (at a cost to taxpayers of $5 billion over 10 years),” Scott wrote to his agency heads. He then directed his team to “prepare a list of critical state services our citizens cannot lose in the event Florida is forced into a government shutdown on July 1st.”

The two budget chiefs, state Rep. Richard Corcoran for the House and state Sen. Tom Lee for the Senate, are talking. Among those wishing to eavesdrop are state employees, local governments, critical service providers and others.

It is a safe bet to count the Republican contenders for president among those deeply interested in Florida’s progress. For those who enjoy making Republicans uneasy, mention a shutdown. A look at past history proves the point.

In 1996, Republicans in Congress sought to aggressively address the federal deficit in budget negotiations. In 2013, Republicans sought to cripple or defund Obamacare.

Democrats successfully demonized Republicans as wanting to make “Draconian” cuts in 1996, leading to a 21-day shutdown. Despite the fact most of the “cuts” were actually smaller increases in spending, and government checks still flowed to recipients, the visuals of furloughed employees and closed parks still led to a losing PR battle for the GOP.

The 15-day 2013 shutdown did not have the longer lasting effect as 1996, but Republican House leadership still caved. Though Republicans were again blamed, Democrats were no angels.

In an attempt to create negative visuals similar to 1996, Obama administration officials barricaded the World War II Memorial to a group of Honor Flight veterans, among others. Fittingly, guys that stormed Iwo Jima and Anzio were not about to be stopped by such a cheap political trick.

History shows Republicans backed down each time and agreed to keep spending money at unsustainable levels. Democrats used shutdown politics to bludgeon Republicans and get their way as they usually do. Florida Democrats could earn a political windfall without doing anything.

While the Democrats deserved, but did not receive, their share of blame for the federal shutdowns, the Florida impasse is clearly Republican vs. Republican. The common and normally justified Republican argument used against Washington Democrats, deficit spending, will not fly when Democrats are not in charge of anything in Tallahassee.

Next year, the GOP will have a nominee trying to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes. They will also field candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat, 27 House seats and 87.5 percent of the Florida Legislature. How many of them want a voting public angry at the Republican brand?

In reality, the chance of a shutdown is low, but that will not stop stories involving the ramifications of a government shutdown. Pressure will build for a solution that allows both sides to save face. In the end, it is a reasonably safe bet an agreement will emerge from the special session. The Senate made the first overture this week.

Since everyone else gets their chance to say “what if,” I am all too happy to take a crack at playing that game. Let us assume an agreement to expand Medicaid even slightly emerges on June 20, the last day of the special session.

Florida’s fiscal year ends on June 30. On the same day, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes its session. What if a majority of justices decide to go by the letter of the law in the Burwell case and whack Obamacare subsidies? This would effectively bring Obamacare to a halt.

A July special session, anyone?

Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Written By

Bob Sparks is a former political consultant who previously served as spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Attorney General. He was a senior adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Before entering politics, he spent nearly two decades in professional baseball administration. He can be reached at and Twitter @BobSparksFL.

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