Exactly two years ago today (December 2), just after the election of Barack Obama, the incoming president met with dozens of governors from both political parties in Philadelphia to discuss details of a yet-to-be unveiled stimulus package that would include hundreds of billions of dollars for states amid their worst fiscal crisis in generations.
“As a record number of governors convened to meet with a president-elect,” Stateline reported from Philadelphia at the time, “they asked for billions of federal dollars to help their states cover rising enrollment in Medicaid, unemployment benefits and the food stamp program.”
Much has changed in two years. Not only have the political winds shifted in Republicans' favor — as crystallized by their huge gains in last month's state and congressional elections — but the state-federal relationship is likely to undergo some major changes, too. That will be on display today, when at least 23 newly elected governors are expected to meet with President Obama at the White House.
This time, the governors won't be asking for billions of dollars, even though most states are still mired in an anemic recovery. Instead, the overwhelmingly Republican new chief executives are likely to ask Obama to stay out of their way as they prepare to undercut his health care overhaul, cancel his plans for high-speed rail connections and reject or alter other key administration objectives.
“We have a situation where we have all these strings from Washington,” Ohio's Republican governor-elect, John Kasich, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer ahead of today's meeting. “You have governors who know how to design solutions for specific problems. The problem is Washington will not let our people go.”
Kasich and Scott Walker, the Republican governor-elect in Wisconsin, have been urging Obama to allow them to divert money from the president's high-speed rail program — which they both consider a waste of money — to other priorities instead. Walker also will attend the meeting.
Nikki Haley, the new Republican leader of South Carolina, promised that a “coalition of governors” would soon work to curb key aspects of the new federal health care law, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Another attendee will be Maine's governor-elect, Republican Paul LePage, who told Obama to “go to hell” as he campaigned to succeed the term-limited John Baldacci, a Democrat. Though LePage has backed off somewhat from his controversial comment, he is not shying away from the message he intends to bring to Obama at the White House.
“Do not come to Maine and put our people out of work through federal policy,” LePage told The Associated Press before he left for Washington. “That’s what prompted that whole comment. They’re docking our boats and not letting them go fish. And I have a problem with that.”
Democrats also acknowledge the changing dynamic between the federal government and the states. At a meeting of the Democratic Governors Association in Washington on Wednesday (December 1), several governors — including the group's new chair, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley — indicated they did not expect much more in the way of federal money for states now that Republicans have seized control of the House of Representatives and vowed to dramatically slash spending.
According to the White House press office, 23 of the nation's 28 new governors will attend today's meeting. The states represented are Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
"Today’s Take” provides a quick analysis of the day’s top news in state government.