Governors Focus On Health Care Reform

Gov. Joe Manchin (D- WVa.) discusses the environmental and health care reform efforts in his state, while Gov. Gary Herbert (R-Utah), says he thinks states should take the lead in health care issues. "States have the ability to be nimble," Herbert says. "Having 50 different approaches will probably give us a chance to find success." The two lawmakers are in Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association meeting.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This weekend, governors from all over the country are in Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association winter meeting. It's a tough time for the nation's governors with states facing high unemployment, growing budget deficits and constituencies clamoring for action on jobs, education and health care.

This morning we'll hear from two governors who came into town for the meeting. In just a bit, Republican Governor Gary Herbert of Utah. But first, I'm joined in the studio by Democratic Governor Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He's also the vice chairman of the National Governors Association. Welcome to the program and (unintelligible).

Governor JOE MANCHIN (Democrat, West Virginia): Thank you for having me, Jacki. I appreciate it.

LYDEN: Governor, I understand you had a meeting Saturday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu. How did it go?

Gov. MANCHIN: It was a wonderful meeting. And I told him, I said, Secretary, I think there's a misconception or a perception that West Virginia and other energy states really don't care about the environment, which is furthest from the truth. We have some of the most strictest environmental laws in the country. And with that we want to be part of the solution. And I said we have an energy portfolio bill that says in West Virginia we will reduce our carbon footprint by 2025. That's as aggressive as anywhere in the country.

The only difference is we use coal and how we transform and use coal in a much cleaner fashion. Most of the federal legislation writes coal out of the equation. And you and I know, Secretary, that can't happen. You're going to have to use coal in this country for us to be able to compete till we find the fuel of the future.

LYDEN: And coal is how important to West Virginia? It's one of the top coal producers.

Gov. MANCHIN: We're the most dependent as far as in our energy - over 98 percent. But with that, we have one of the largest wind farms in the eastern United States. We have more wind generation in West Virginia than most any state east of the Mississippi.

We have a land use bill - and I know we call it surface mining or mountaintop mining; it's very controversial, as you know - we have a land use bill that says in West Virginia you cannot alter the surface unless you can show us how you're going to put the land back with better value. We don't have flat land for agriculture. We don't have areas to put wind farms on. This would be a wonderful opportunity.

LYDEN: Now, you have also concentrated a lot on health care reform at this governors meeting. How is that going?

Gov. MANCHIN: Just came - another meeting where we had probably 40 governors. The federal government is at a stalemate. I don't believe anybody believes that there can be a bipartisan effort in Washington for whatever reason. We as the National Governors Association, we still have bipartisan collaboration on everything.

But this has been a tough one for us too. And we're still working. We're not giving up. We've got to change health care. Health care has double digit inflation for every state. I don't believe that we've bottomed out as states. We know we have tougher times ahead of us.

And there's a correction going on like never before. People are more dependent on health care from the federal government and the state government more than ever before. We've got to figure a way to work this out. What we as governors are saying: one size doesn't fit all. What works in West Virginia might not work in California. We understand. Give us some flexibility. Give us a goal to shoot for. Don't penalize us. Let us try some things. We're the laboratories.

LYDEN: So, did you come away feeling that there was a lot of consensus, a bipartisan consensus?

Gov. MANCHIN: We're going to work on - we're working on consensus, Jacki. We believe that if we don't find it in the governors' ranks, it won't be found in the country 'cause we have exactly the same problems, whether it be education, infrastructure, health care, energy, all of these things.

LYDEN: Governor Manchin, thank you very much.

Gov. MANCHIN: Thank you, Jacki.

LYDEN: Another governor who's in town for the National Governors Association meeting is Governor Gary Herbert of Utah. We spoke to him at the hotel where the conference is taking place. And, Governor Herbert, thanks so much for your time. I understand this is your first such meeting.

Governor GARY HERBERT (Republican, Utah): It is. I'm excited to be here and looking forward to the topics and the agenda that we're going to meet today.

LYDEN: So, what do you think the states are looking for from the federal government right now? What do you hear from fellow governors?

Gov. HERBERT: Well, I think some of the concerns that we have in Utah and other states is the overreach of the federal government. It's not like we're looking for anything. In fact, sometimes we're looking just, you know, kind of stay away. I think the overreach of the federal government, particularly as we look at health care, for example, is troubling to both Democrat and Republican governors.

Other issues in my state and the western states are public land issues, energy development, things of that nature, which we actually have an opportunity to have a significant contribution to energy development, energy independence in our state. And so I think there's a concern that we're going to be stymied with some of our access to public lands to develop traditional fuels as well as renewables.

LYDEN: Let me ask you about health care, which you just mentioned. You're pretty involved in the National Governors Association's efforts. You're on the health care reform task force. What do you think governors can do about health care reform when most of the issue's been up to Congress, where it's been, as we know, quite embattled?

Gov. HERBERT: Well, I think Washington really has kind of got it backwards and I think we need to let the states take the lead on a number of these issues. And health care is a perfect example of where states can be these incubators of creativity and innovation and see if we cannot find solutions to the health care issues.

States have the ability to be nimble, to find solutions, as we find successes, amplify them, as we find bumps in the road, to reconfigure and find solutions. We're more nimble than the federal government. And I think most of us understand that having 50 different approaches will probably give us a chance to find success as opposed to the one-size-fits-all solution that tends to come out of Washington, D.C.

LYDEN: I know that it's your first time at this National Governors Association meeting and yet I'd like to ask: Do you think that there's more bipartisan support at the gubernatorial level, because governors have to get things done, than we're seeing in Congress right now?

Gov. HERBERT: Well, I think being an executive branch organization, I think we do have to get things done. We are held responsible for managing our states and actually executing what has to be done in behalf of the people. And I think there's also principles that cross over partisan lines. You know, states' rights and federalism is not a Democrat-Republican issue, it's the Constitution. It's what most every governor believes in. Unfunded mandates - we don't like that either. And so there are a number of issues that we can, that unify us in opposition to the federal government that are above partisan politics.

And we usually reach across the aisles with our own state legislators to get things done. We're certainly doing that in Utah. And I think bringing people together to find solutions, that's what we're good at in the states. I think Washington could take a lead from our example.

LYDEN: Gary Herbert is the governor of Utah, and we spoke to him at the National Governors Association meeting here in Washington, D.C. Governor Herbert, thank you very much.

Gov. HERBERT: Thank you very much.

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