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Nation's Governors Hold Press Conference Following Meeting with President Bush

Aired February 26, 2001 - 12:00 p.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you live to just outside the White House: the governors of the nation meeting with President Bush today.

Here is Parris Glendening, governor of Maryland.


GOV. PARRIS GLENDENING (D), MARYLAND: ... still to be clarified. We're pleased that the governor is concerned about protecting Title 1. Our aid to the poorest of our children appears to be clearly understood by the White House -- and have indicated their strong support for this.

We, as governors, all support the effort for accountability and quality in education. We just acknowledge there are a couple of areas in which we disagree, such as vouchers. But that was simply an acknowledgement on both sides, and we moved on. We are pleased with the receptiveness in terms of working with Medicaid and his knowledge on a number of other issues.

Did express from some governors -- in particular, Democratic governors -- some concern about the tax cut, the size and what it would do in terms of the economy as well as providing services. He recognized, again very gracefully, that there was serious differences here and it was something kind of be thought out or fought out, whatever is most appropriate, but to go through that.

Overall, we think it was a very productive meeting. It was helpful to me. And I know it was certainly helpful to our colleagues as well.

I want to ask my vice chair, John Engler, who's doing such a fabulous job as well, if he would add a word as well.

GOV. JOHN ENGLER (R), MICHIGAN: Thank you, Governor.

I thought it was a very productive meeting, as Governor Glendening has indicated. About -- the president took, I think, a dozen questions from different governors in the open session. And we did try something different -- again, as the governor indicated -- with some breakout sessions over in the Old Executive Office Building prior to going to the White House to meet with the president. So we had ample time with some of the Cabinet secretaries. And some relationships got built today. An important new announcement today: The president made a little bit of news by, in his opening comments, indicating that he was establishing an interagency working group on federalism, and that one of the purposes of this interagency group on federalism would be to rewrite the executive order on federalism that had been in place -- most notably in the Reagan administration -- but to look at ways that that could be strengthened, to respect the roles of state and local government.

And I think he went to some length to refer to members of his Cabinet who had been governors. And he went through the list and ended it by saying "and Bush," making the point that he is not about to soon forget from whence he has come and is very keen on having the kind of relationship that Governor Glendening and I certainly have sought as leaders of the Governors Association.

And our colleagues are, I think, at this point, quite enthused about the openness and the willingness almost to entertain, as Governor Thompson said, any and all ideas, bring them forward and let us look at them, is sort of Governor Thompson's attitude as it relates to the whole health care agenda.

So I'm encouraged. The speech tomorrow night is important. The president talked about that speech a little bit and his -- his sense that this speech would be, in part, a blueprint as to how he sees the economy unfolding and how the federal role fits and why some of the priorities are being set the way they are being set. So he's clearly looking forward to the speech and obviously is pretty well set to go with it.

QUESTION: Governor Glendening, you said in there that, with regards to the health care cost of Medicare, Medicaid, that one of the most striking things is the percentage by which every year the expenditures go up. Could you speak to that in a little greater detail? And how does that fit in with your call for Medicaid reform, Medicare reform, and what the president might propose?

GLENDENING: First of all, there were a number of concerns expressed by governors. But the reality is that, in budgets and in some states where the economy is slowing down in a very major way, there's a concern about the increased cost of Medicaid.

I must tell you, by the way, the lead governors on this are Governor Dean of Vermont and Governor Sundquist of Tennessee. And they have brought together some very productive alternatives. There are a variety of concerns that we have here. One is to make sure that, in a tight-budget year, we continue to provide guaranteed medical protection for those most in need.

At the same time, however, we want to have some flexibility so that we can expand Medicaid assistance to certain populations or meet other unique needs for a particular state and not give up our Medicaid funding, and, indeed, have the federal government as partner for this funding. The president indicated both here and in an earlier conversation that the vice chair and I had with him that, while he clearly understood and wanted to be supportive, that that was not the priority which he was moving right now. He was focusing on education and the tax cut and some other things, but wanted to be an ally with the governors and see whether we can resolve this.

QUESTION: Well, if I could just follow up on that, then: If it's not one of his main priorities and education is, what are your concerns for the near-term future as this reduction in revenues runs headlong into this increase in costs?

GLENDENING: There is concern. And for some states, the increase has been a double-digit cost. Part of that is if there's a slowdown in the economy, more people are eligible or seek out Medicaid. The other part is the states have been doing what they want to do, and that is by expanding, for example, Children's Health, we often, then, bring the adults in those families into the Medicaid system as well, so we give full health coverage.

For some states, we think this is going to mean a tight budget. For other states it's going to be a crisis. But we are trying to work together on this. And we did talk with some members of the United States Senate already who seem to have an interest in this as well.

Do I predict that Medicaid reform is going to occur immediately or even this session? Probably not. The president did say -- and I don't think we're disclosing anything in this -- he does intend to increase Medicaid funding in the budget both this year and subsequently in the out years as well. That is helpful for the short run. But for the long run, I think we need a comprehensive review of that program.

ENGLER: Let me just add to that. I think that, first of all, there's no reduction. There's a premise in the question that needs to be corrected. The increase will be there.

QUESTION: I was saying reduction in tax revenues.

ENGLER: Oh, oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were referring to the spending and the revenues would be coming from the federal government, because those would appear -- while the overall budget, there's been discussion that the discretionary spending would be limited to about a 4 percent growth rate, I think the number on Medicaid is probably in the 10 percent range. That's the -- that's an entitlement number and it's a little different part of the budget.

What we're saying as governors, though, whether it's an 8 percent, 10 percent or 14 percent growth in respective states, that, given the opportunity as we had in designing welfare programs, if we could design some of the health care programs, we think there are some strategies -- some of these are market-based solutions, some of those are just structurally the way the programs come together -- that we can provide for the same people more efficiently, or we can expand the number of people provided for with the same dollars.

So you have some options there that could be available. Governor Thompson indicated he's already granted three waivers in his shorten tenure as secretary. We're saying that, in the area of Medicaid, there may be a lot of waivers that immediately ought to be considered. And then going forward, as Governor Glendening was pointing out, the policy that Governors Dean and Sundquist have been leading the way on would say, let's just kind of fundamentally change the program so that you don't have to go every time and, on a case-by-case basis, get a waiver.

KAGAN: We've been listening to Senators John Engler, also Parris Glendening -- senators, I'm sorry, governors. This is the National Governors Association. They are meeting today at the White House with President Bush. Very comfortable company there considering that the president a former governor himself of Texas. And he pointed that out to his governors, in the company of them this morning.

The governors answering question right now. Tough questions ahead in terms of figuring out how the federal government and the states are going to pay for programs like welfare and health care programs, one of the many things being discussed as the nation's governors meet this week in Washington, D.C.



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