Former Florida Charlie Crist campaigning for 2014 Florida gubernatorial race
WASHINGTON - Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Sunday stuck to his support of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, saying "it's been great" for the state despite a difficult rollout.
In an interview with CNN's "State of the Union," Crist said Obama has a "compassionate heart" and predicted the public would eventually embrace the health care law.
"At the end of the day, this is going to be a very popular program because it's doing the right thing for the people of our country and my state," Crist said. "The president is a smart guy and he's doing the right thing."
Crist also acknowledged that Florida's economy has improved under incumbent Gov. Rick Scott but he still said he could have done more to help Floridians. He also said that the economy was helped by his decision while governor to accept federal assistance that was part of the federal stimulus package that was passed in 2009.
The former Republican, who is trying to win back his old office as a Democrat, urged members of his new party to fully support Obama during the midterm elections. Crist said Obama was "leading and leading well."
"I think that what they need to do is support him and support him strongly. He deserves it," said Crist. "That will bring them home and unify them and I think that will make November very, very good for Democrats."
Since officially joining the governor's race late last year, Republicans continue to hammer at Crist over his support of the health care overhaul. They were quick to pounce on his Sunday morning comments.
"Charlie Crist has left himself no room to back out of his support of Obamacare, the disaster it has already been and the disaster it will continue to be," said Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida.
In recent weeks Scott has ratcheted up his criticism of the overhaul even though the former health care executive has himself has altered his stance over the last two years.
Scott, who before running for governor in 2010 led a group opposed to the overhaul, initially said he would not implement the law, or back the expansion of Medicaid that was a part of the overhaul. But last year Scott called on Florida legislators to accept billions in federal funding and expand Medicaid eligibility. Scott stopped pushing for expansion after GOP legislators rejected it and in recent months has criticized the overhaul again.
Scott this week even took time during a Cabinet meeting to criticize potential rate cuts to Medicare Advantage which lets seniors enroll in Medicare through private insurance plans.
During his CNN interview Crist did acknowledge Florida's economy had improved under Scott's watch but said "it could be doing a lot better." Crist also said that a "turnaround" started at the end of his term in 2010 and he said part of the reasons was because he accepted federal stimulus money.
He faulted Scott for not pushing harder to accept federal Medicaid funds which could have been used to provide health insurance coverage to nearly 1 million Floridians.
Crist also criticized Scott for opposing federal money for high-speed rail and for opposing a hike in the minimum wage. Florida's $7.93 minimum wage is higher than the federal rate, but it is below the $10.10 level that President Obama and many Democrats support. There are bills pending in the Florida Legislature to raise the rate but they are not expected to get heard during the session that started last week.