In the Sunshine State, Biden makes the case for Medicaid expansion; protects Social Security
President Joe Biden speaking at the University of Tampa on Feb. 9, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)
Two days after delivering a spirited State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., President Joe Biden appeared in Florida on Thursday before an intimate crowd at the University of Tampa, where he pledged to protect Social Security and Medicare and push for Medicaid expansion for vulnerable families.
The president also drew a contrast with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida and the architect of a plan that would sunset all federal legislation – including Social Security and Medicare every five years and requiring Congress to approve those programs again.
The message wasn’t subtle.
The White House placed a copy of Scott’s proposal on every seat in Fletcher Lounge, the room inside the University of Tampa where Biden delivered his 24-minute low-key address.
“Maybe he’s changed his mind,” Biden said after he held up the brochure. “Maybe he’s seen the Lord.”
But Biden wasn’t done, referring to how Scott ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2022, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans.
“The very idea that the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous. So outrageous that you might not believe it,” Biden said.
Scott has been on a tear on Twitter the past couple of days after Biden mentioned that some Republicans wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits during the State of the Union address.
“Welcome to Florida,.@JoeBiden,” Scott tweeted on Thursday. “Since you can’t stop talking about me and lying to Floridians about Social Security and Medicare, I’m sure you’ll accept my invitation to debate the issue. I’ll be back in Florida tonight. You pick the time and place.”
Scott has adamantly denied that his plan he unveiled in 2022 ever contemplated cutting Social Security or Medicare, and he tweeted on Wednesday how it was Biden who proposed legislation in the mid 1970s that would have sunset Medicare, Social Security and other federal programs.
Biden then finished that portion of his speech by declaring that for “a lot” of Republicans, killing Social Security and Medicare remains their dream.
“If that’s your dream, I’m your nightmare,” the president quipped.
Meanwhile, the president’s overall job rating continues to hover in the low 40s — dangerous territory for an incumbent seeking reelection. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released last weekend showed that only 31 percent of Democrats want Biden to run for reelection.
But that wasn’t the sentiment inside the small confines of Fletcher Lounge, the room inside of Plant Hall located on the University of Tampa, which broke into cheers throughout his speech.
Biden mentioned the fact that Florida is one of only a few states in the country that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. Since it was instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, the federal government has agreed to pay 90 percent of the costs, but neither former Govs. Rick Scott nor Ron DeSantis has supported such a plan.
“Over 1.1 million people in Florida would be eligible for Medicaid if Governor DeSantis just said I agree to expand it. This isn’t calculus,” Biden said.
The president also mentioned closures of several rural hospitals, saying “That’s more than a third of all rural hospitals in Florida,” he noted.
“The only reason that Medicare expansion hasn’t happened here is because of politics,” he paused, meaning Medicaid. “It’s time to get this done,” he said.
“It would have been done if you had been elected,” Biden added, pointing towards Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee for governor last year who was crushed by DeSantis in the November election.
Biden is running on cutting health care costs, such as the provision in the Inflation Reduction Act that would cap out-of-pocket costs for insulin at $35 for Medicare Part D enrollees. He vowed if congressional Republicans dared to repeal that legislation or the Affordable Care Act, “I will veto it,” he said, and the crowd cheered.
Perhaps for Florida Democrats, more important than the content of Biden’s speech was the fact that it was held in Florida, three months after the party had one of its worst election peformances ever, and is being depicted by national pundits as no longer a swing-state in national elections.
“I think that it shows that the national leadership is paying attention to Florida,” said former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn after the speech. “I think last year was an anomaly. An unmotivated base and an uninspiring candidate, and it resulted in turnout that was abysmal. They (Republicans) didn’t beat us. We just didn’t show up.”
“This is an energizing kind of moment – the president’s coming,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor emerita at University of South Florida. “It’s a big signal and I see a lot of this as really aimed at resurrecting in a way the (Florida) Democratic Party.”
While the president seemed to enjoy the raucous exchange with congressional Republicans during the State of the Union, he was noticeably speaking with lower energy in Tampa on Thursday. He appeared relaxed and serene.
Biden did go off-script for a moment about a third of the way through his speech, as he turned to his right to see a group of people standing.
“You guys have to stand up the whole time? I’m sorry,” he said as the audience laughed. “That’s not right… If you guys want to come up on stage you can do that to if you want to.”
They chose not to.
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