Jac Wilder VerSteeg: Sometimes in politics, you have to shoot the hostage


The Obama administration needs to learn to take advice from Keanu Reeves.

In the movie “Speed,” Reeves’s character Jack Travern and Harry Temple, played by Jeff Daniels, are SWAT team members discussing a hypothetical hostage situation.

Says Temple: “All right, pop quiz. Airport. Gunman with one hostage. He’s using her for cover. He’s almost to a plane, you’re a hundred feet away. What do you think?”

Travern replies tersely: “Shoot the hostage.”

Sometimes, you just can’t protect the hostage from harm. And if you try, it only protects the perp. This is playing out in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., as the Legislature prepares to return for the June 1 special session.

The regular session fell apart when House Republicans left town rather than engage in negotiations that could have extended healthcare coverage to 800,000 low-income Floridians. The Floridians denied healthcare represent the “hostages” in this scenario.

The feds have been providing money to reimburse hospitals for indigent care. But that money, from the so-called “Low Income Pool,” was supposed to go away. To replace it with other federal money, states were supposed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But the ACA is anathema to many Republicans.

The Florida House and Gov. Rick Scott calculated that, if push came to shove, the Obama administration would continue to provide money from the so-called “Low Income Pool.” House Republicans and Gov. Scott let it be known they were willing to let the working poor do without healthcare if the only alternative were to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

At first, the Obama administration was adamant that it would cut off the LIP funding. Gov. Rick Scott sued, claiming illegal coercion. But that didn’t change his basic position, which was that Florida will not provide the healthcare if expanding Medicaid is the only way to get it.

The House has been even more adamant. If the state has to take federal money via Obamare to provide healthcare to the poor, the poor can just suffer.

The Senate, also run by Republicans, has rejected that heartless approach and devised a compromise that would have preserved federal funding. But the House would have none of it.

If the feds had stuck by their decision to withhold LIP money, House Republicans would have returned to Tallahassee next week positioned as heartless villains. But the feds were not willing to “shoot the hostage.” They agreed to provide $1 billion in LIP funding even if Florida defies them on Medicaid. Pressure on the House is reduced, if not eliminated.

In fact, Gov. Scott and the House can claim that – in forcing the feds to blink – they have stood up for Florida’s poor.

One problem is that House Republicans might not be afraid of appearing heartless. Their constituents might actually want them to deny healthcare to Florida’s poor.

GOP senators somehow have developed compassion. One hopes that the majority of Republicans eventually will come to reject the House’s cold outlook. That will never happen if the feds and Democrats are unwilling to let the political “hostages” suffer any harm. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice the “hostage” to demonstrate to the world just how cruel the hostage-takers are.

Jac Wilder VerSteeg is editor of Context Florida.

Jac VerSteeg


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