By Pamela M. Prah
State governors went to the White House Monday (Feb. 23) to
register their concerns about jobs and highway dollars, and
President Bush promised to put aside election-year politics
and work with them. But no new funds or programs were offered.
Some of the participants at the National Governors Association
winter meeting came away from the White House disappointed
that the administration held the line on Bush's threat to
veto any highway bill that would give the states substantially
more federal money than the president wants.
Divisions between states and the federal government also
persisted over Medicaid payments and the No Child Left Behind
education law, despite recent moves by the administration
to ease states concerns.
This is going to be a year in which a lot of people
are probably going to think nothing can (be) done right, because
we're all out campaigning. Well, that's not my attitude,
Bush told the governors. I fully understand it's going
to be the year of the sharp elbow and the quick tongue. But
my pledge to you is we'll continue to work with you.
Some governors, particularly Democrats, had hoped to elicit
more sympathy from Bush about job losses in their states,
especially those hard-hit by factory closings and manufacturing
jobs moved overseas.
"On the issue of jobs and the economy, there is truly
concern on both sides of the aisle about it," Tennessee
Gov. Phil Bredeson (D) said.
I do have concerns about jobs, Minnesota Gov.
Tim Pawlenty (R) said. We still have a lot of work to
do. The presidents position is that the economy is improving;
its not improving fast enough, Pawlenty said.
Were still not out of the woods yet.
Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas credited the presidents
tax cuts with stimulating the recent growth in the economy,
although he conceded the one area where the economic
recovery is not catching up yet is in the area of jobs.
In fact, governors used the lure of jobs creation to lobby
for a more generous highway bill than the one proposed by
Bush. West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise (D) said, Thats
the one clear jobs bill that everybody gets: Republicans,
Democrats, federal, state. As somebody pointed out, thats
the one set of jobs that cant be outsourced. You have
to build it here.
The highway bill, which serves as a blueprint for highway
and transit projects, is a high priority for governors of
both parties who want a six-year plan, not a one-year extension,
and more federal dollars than the White House is willing to
give. The administrations highway plan would set aside
$247 billion over six years while the House and Senate versions
range from $318 billion to $375 billion.
[Transportation] Secretary Norman Mineta made it clear
that the president would not sign
a higher bill, and
thats a huge mistake from the standpoint of stimulating
the economy and creating good-paying jobs, a huge mistake,
Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) told Stateline.org.
"Transportation dollars are still the very best instant
job producers," he said.
The governors welcomed with some skepticism the administration's
agreement to back off, at least for now, a plan to crack down
on states that use creative but questionable strategies to
get more federal dollars for Medicaid, the federal-state health
care program for the poor.
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), vice chairman of NGA, conceded:
"The states don't come with totally clean hands in this
area. There have been some abuses, but we ought to sit down
and address this in a full manner, rather than what many governors
have thought was an arbitrary decision-making process."
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) told reporters that "states
feel universally under siege after federal officials
unexpectedly proposed rules changes in January affecting their
Medicaid dollars. Some governors are hopeful states can work
out a solution with the newly nominated head of the Centers
for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Mark McClellan, former
head of the Food and Drug Administration.
Much of President Bushs opening comments to the governors
focused on the war on terror, but he also vigorously defended
both the administrations tax cuts as good for the economy
and the federal No Child Left Behind education law as good