Obama Reaches Out to Governors
Updated 1:49 p.m.
By Michael D. Shear and William Branigin
PHILADELPHIA -- President-elect Barack Obama reached out to the nation's governors today, extending "the hand of friendship" to Republicans among them and meeting privately with several as he sought input on how best to stimulate the economy while helping states deal with their budget crises.
Before meeting with the governors, who gathered in Philadelphia for a conference of the National Governors Association, Obama cautioned that the nation faces hard choices in the months ahead, and he pledged to listen to the state executives regardless of party affiliation.
Departing from his prepared remarks in an opening statement, Obama offered Republican governors "the same commitment to partnership" that he extends to Democratic colleagues and vowed to cast aside ideological considerations.
"There is a time for campaigning, and there is a time for governing," Obama told the group after an introduction by Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. "And one of the messages that Joe and I want to continually send is that we are not going to be hampered by ideology in trying to get this country back on track."
Obama added: "We want to figure out what works. That doesn't mean that we're not going to have some disagreements. But what it does mean is that if you can show me something you are doing that's working, or if you tell me that this program or this regulation is hampering us from doing smart things that will advance the interests of our state, then you're going to have a ready ear."
The president-elect warned the governors, "We are not, as a nation, going to be able to just keep on printing money. So at some point, we're also going to have to make some long-term decisions in terms of fiscal responsibility. And not all of those choices are going to be popular."
He promised them, however, "I'm going listen to you. I'm going to seek your counsel. And, by the way, I'm going listen to you especially when we disagree, because one of the things that has served me well at least in my career is discovering that I don't know everything."
He said the governors "are going to be extraordinarily important in keeping us on track, not allowing Joe and myself to get infected with Washingtonitis, and to constantly be reminded of the realities that are happening to folks back home."
Several members of the Republican Governors Association were scheduled to present a letter summarizing their principles to Obama after the meeting.
"Today's meeting represents an opportunity to come together and forge solutions to the current economic crisis," the RGA chairman, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), said in a statement. "It is important these solutions be based on the same common-sense principles that have made America the economic envy of the world for generations."
Obama is pushing a massive economic stimulus package to "jolt" the economy. But the success of those efforts will depend on how well the money for infrastructure spending can flow through the states and into transportation, education and other projects.
At the governor's meeting, all eyes were expected to be on several governors who are prominently in the news: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who is widely expected to be named commerce secretary, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was the GOP vice-presidential candidate in the Nov. 4 election.
Following are the prepared remarks of Obama and Biden to the governors:
Remarks of President-elect Barack Obama
National Governors Association Meeting
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
It always feels like a bit of a homecoming when I meet with governors. Because while I stand here today as President-elect, I will never forget the eight years I served in the state Senate in Illinois. It is in state and local government that the rubber hits the road. Of all our elected leaders, you are the ones people count on most to solve the problems in their communities and to help them get by in difficult times. And it's your state governments that bear some of the toughest burdens when an economic crisis strikes.
That is what we're seeing today.
Every one of you is struggling to come up with a budget at a time when you're facing great and growing needs. More and more people are turning to you for help with health care or affordable housing - even as tightening credit markets and falling tax revenues make it more and more difficult to provide that help.
Forty-one states are likely to face budget shortfalls this year or next, forcing you to choose between reining in spending and raising taxes. Jobs are being cut. Programs for the needy are at risk. Libraries, parks, and historic sites are being closed. Right here in Philadelphia, over two hundred workers are being laid off - and hundreds more unfilled positions are being eliminated.
Meanwhile, virtually all of you are facing the additional challenge of a state constitution that requires you to balance your budget, leaving you with the impossible choice of either helping families at the risk of violating your constitution or upholding your constitution at the expense of helping families.
To solve this crisis and to ease the burden on our states, we need action - and action now. That means passing an economic recovery plan for both Wall Street and Main Street that jumpstarts our economy, helps save or create two and a half million jobs, puts tax cuts into the pockets of hard-pressed middle class families, and makes a down payment on the investments we need to build a strong economy for years to come.
But we also have to recognize that any true solution will not come from Washington alone. It will come from all of you. It will come from the White House and the State House working together every step of the way. That is the kind of strong partnership I intend to build as President of the United States.
Today is our chance to lay the foundation for that partnership. Over the next few hours, I look forward to hearing about the problems you're facing, learning about the work you're doing, and discussing some of the ways we can work together to reduce health care costs, rebuild our crumbling roads, bridges, and schools, and ensure that more families can stay in their homes.
But the partnership we begin here must not - and will not - end here. As President, I will not simply ask our nation's governors to help implement our economic recovery plan. I will ask you to help design that plan. Because if we're listening to our governors, we'll not only be doing what's right for our states, we'll be doing what's right for our country. That's how we'll grow our economy - from the bottom-up. And that's how we'll put America on the path to long-term prosperity.
Make no mistake: these are difficult times, and we're going to have to make hard choices in the months ahead about how to invest precious tax dollars and how to save them - hard choices like the ones you're making right now. I won't stand here and tell you that you'll like all the decisions I make. You probably won't. But I promise you this - as President, I will seek your counsel. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And we will once again be true partners in the work of rebuilding our economy, strengthening our states, and lifting up our entire country.
To our Republican colleagues, let me just say a special word. I offer you the same hand of friendship and cooperation that I offer our Democratic governors. We have a strong and vibrant democracy. We compete vigorously during an election. But with the end of that season comes the time to govern together - and that time is now.
It was Justice Brandeis who said, during a period of far greater turmoil in our markets, that one of the blessings of our democracy was that - and I quote - "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory," experimenting with innovative solutions to its economic problems. That is the spirit of courage and ingenuity that so many of you embody. And that is the spirit I want to reclaim in this country - one where our states are testing new ideas, where Washington is investing in what works, and where you and I are working in partnership to move this country forward. Thank you.
Remarks of Vice President-Elect Joe Biden
National Governors Association Meeting
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Thank you, Governor Rendell and Governor Douglas.
And Governor Palin, your being here today sends a powerful message that when campaigns end, we are all partners in progress. Thank you.
I always love events where seating is done by when your state entered the union. That's when it's good to be a Delawarean, and it's good to see Governor-elect Jack Markell here.
Over the course of the campaign, I had the opportunity to travel through many of your states.
Often, I'd be on a bus, and one of you - or a local official - would point out local landmarks.
And the commentary was almost always, "This used to be."
This "used to be" a steel mill. This town "used to be" the ceramics capital of America.
This factory "used to" employ 1,200 people. A company "used to have" their headquarters here.
We'll know we've turned the corner when we hear a lot less "This used to be..." and a lot more "this is going to be."
In order to get to "This is going to be" we need to build a partnership with you - that is much more robust and much deeper.
And in doing that, the partnership we're able to build with all of you is crucial.
Eric Sevareid once told President Kennedy that: "It doesn't make much sense when two people are sitting in a boat for one of them to point a finger accusingly at the other and say `your end of the boat is sinking.'"
Our nation can't succeed unless our states succeed.
Barack and I recognize this.
And we recognize that you've all been incredibly hard hit by this economic crisis.
Already 41 states are looking at budget shortfalls this year or next.
That is why help for you - everything from direct aid, to countercyclical investments, to benefit programs, to infrastructure investment - will be key parts of our economic plan.
On infrastructure specifically, we have a huge opportunity. China invests 7-9 percent of its GDP in infrastructure projects. We invest just 1 percent. There's a reason they have a mag-lev train that can go over 200 miles per hour.
I may have a bit of a pro-rail bias, but think of the jobs we could create - in both construction and innovation - if we made similarly bold investments here.
We should fast-track funding for the thousands of ready-to-go projects across the country that can quickly put people back to work and lay the foundation for long-term growth.
In the longer term, we are calling for the creation of a new National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that will help us make the investments we need to build a 21st century transportation system - while creating jobs and taking the politics out of infrastructure spending. And it has the added benefit of making American business more competitive in the world.
We believe that, together, we can make this country again, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a place "of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations."
Despite all of our challenges, I'm struck by how hopeful our nation remains...
... People understand the serious challenges we face - but they also believe that with leadership in Washington and in your states that gives people the chance to succeed - there's nothing we can't do.
We should view this moment of challenge as a moment of great opportunity ---
Perhaps most importantly, Barack understands that change is a means, and not an end. And together, we can change "this used to be" into "this is going to be."
It is now my pleasure to introduce a man who has inspired this nation, and who I am honored to join as a partner in leading this nation.
Please join me in welcoming President-elect Barack Obama.
Posted at 1:49 PM ET on Dec 2, 2008
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