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After hard charging on health care in 2016, Marco Rubio is slow, careful


As a presidential candidate, Marco Rubio pitched an Obamacare replacement and tore into Donald Trump for not having one. "What is your plan? What is your plan on health care? You don't have a plan," the Florida senator aggressively challenged in a February 2016 debate.

But now as Trump pushes Congress to execute the GOP's defining objective, Rubio's voice is diminished.

He's been slow and careful to react to the House-passed overhaul, and he's not part of the Senate's working group that includes fellow 2016 presidential contender Ted Cruz.

In a video Rubio published Tuesday on Facebook, he underscored the lack of enthusiasm for the House product, which a Congressional Budget Office report said would result in 23 million more uninsured Americans over a decade and increase costs for the poor and elderly. "I know they worked hard on it — that is not the Senate bill," Rubio said. "The Senate is going to do its own bill."

He sought to play down the issue, noting that most Americans get coverage through their employers.

"It also doesn't impact anyone that's getting insurance from Medicare," he said. "Medicare is not being touched in all of this. So what we're primarily focused on are two things — Medicaid and the individual marketplace. That is a small percentage of the overall population, but it's a significant number of people, millions of people."

Florida has about 4 million people on Medicaid and more than 1.6 million get coverage through the Obamacare market. South Florida, where Rubio resides, leads the way.

"So what are my goals?" he said Tuesday. "No. 1 is I want Florida to be treated fairly when it comes to Medicaid. I want to make sure we are not penalized because we didn't expand. And I want to make sure what other funding formula there is for Medicaid treats Florida fairly but allows it to continue to operate in an innovative way so that we don't just get more coverage for people but that we get people coverage that actually is better for their health, gets better outcomes."

Rubio's office has refused to answer questions on why he isn't involved in the Senate working group, whether he was asked to join or whether he's offering any ideas.

The posture and words are far from how Rubio described the Affordable Care Act for years and how he pledged to lead the way to its dismantling. Not long before he announced for president, Rubio promoted a "post-Obamacare era" plan and he continued to sell it as a candidate.

But Republicans are finding campaign talk is far easier than action. The House bill is effectively dead and the Senate is struggling with its own legislation. By keeping a lower profile, Rubio could be trying to minimize political damage.

After all, he felt the burn for getting involved in the immigration reform effort of 2013.

Corcoran poised for run

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran has opened a new political committee, Watchdog PAC, that may or may not bankroll his campaign for governor in 2018. The Land O'Lakes Republican says he will remain speaker through the 2018 session and decide after that whether he will run for governor.

In the meantime, it appears virtually every special interest wanting something done or not done in the Legislature can bankroll the Watchdog PAC to curry favor with Corcoran. We haven't heard back from Corcoran yet, but this new committee fits exactly what he said he intended to do.

"If I can't raise the money, I can't raise the money, and if I raise the money and I don't want to run for governor, I don't run for governor. I'll use it for constitutional amendments, I'll use it for helping real conservatives, or I'll turn it over to the (Republican) Party," Corcoran told The Buzz earlier this month.

Start the veto clock?

The biggest and most controversial piece of legislation to emerge from the 2017 session, the budget, was still in the Senate's hands Friday — a safe distance from Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen.

The Buzz hears the Senate plans to deliver the $82.4 billion budget to Scott on Tuesday. If that happens, a 15-day clock begins ticking and Scott would have until June 14 to act.

Staffers in the governor's budget office have been poring over the nearly 500-page budget line-by-line since it was approved May 8, and lawmakers and their staffs report being asked about specific projects.

Lawmakers interpret that as a clear sign that Scott has no plans to veto the entire spending plan and will instead carry out "surgical but massive" vetoes.

Apart from the pending budget drama, legislators are considering holding a special session the week of June 12 or June 19 to tackle the unfinished business of implementing Florida voters' will on Amendment 2, which legalizes medical marijuana.

Adam C. Smith and Steve Bousquet contributed.

For more, visit Tampa Bay Times.

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