By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott's plan to expand Medicaid coverage to cover about 1 million more poor people suffered a setback on Monday when the proposal failed to make it out of a key state legislative committee hearing.
On the eve of convening of the 2013 session, the House Select Committee on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act rejected the expansion. A Senate counterpart committee postponed consideration of the issue, which is sure to be one of the biggest controversies of the session.
Scott, a Republican who bitterly fought President Barack Obama's national healthcare plan as a candidate and in his first two years as governor, stunned conservative supporters on February 20 when he endorsed a three-year expansion of Medicaid, provided the federal government picks up the full cost for the first three years as promised.
"There's definitely a fight between the governor and the (state) legislature over this. The Republicans in the legislature are much more fiscally conservative than his actions have shown him to be," said Susan MacManus, a Tampa-based political scientist at the University of South Florida.
Republican legislative leaders have been openly hostile toward the plan, emphasizing that state lawmakers will make the final decision in drawing up a budget for next fiscal year.
While Democrats have pushed for full implementation of so-called "Obamacare," the controlling Republican leadership has warned that the federal government might not keep its end of the bargain, leaving the state with a million more Medicaid recipients and reduced federal funding to cover them.
The conservative James Madison Institute praised the state House committee action.
"State leaders should focus on providing more access to quality care," the institute said in a prepared statement. "Expanding a program that is inefficient in this effort is not a way to do that."
(Additional reporting by David Adams)