Obama Presses Governors On Education, Health Care

President Obama met Monday with the nation's governors, who are in Washington for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association. Obama had two things on this mind: education and health care.

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President Obama met with the nation's governors today at the White House. They're in town for the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

As NPR's Mara Liasson reports, Mr. Obama had two things on his mind: education and health care.

MARA LIASSON: In this toxic partisan environment, education is one issue where there's a surprising amount of agreement and continuity. For example, President Obama has worked to build on former President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. And today Mr. Obama told the nation's governors that he wants to add another incentive for states to raise academic performance by attaching some federal strings to the disbursement of aid for low-income students.

President BARACK OBAMA: There's a condition of receiving access to Title 1 funds. We will ask all states to put in place a plan to adopt and certify standards that are college and career ready in reading and math. Once you've got those standards in place, you'll be able to better compete for funds to improve teaching and upgrade curriculum.

LIASSON: Under the president's proposal, the states would work with the federal government to improve teacher performance and student achievement. The White House had always planned to bring a new focus this year to education, but the big piece of unfinished business from last year won't go away. Just before he spoke to the governors, the White House unveiled the president's own health care overhaul plan, which, like education, Mr. Obama said, was an important long-term piece of fixing the economy.

Pres. OBAMA: We've also got responsibility to think beyond the crisis and build an economy that works for our future, to tackle some of the problems and barriers that have held us back and to secure our rightful place as the preeminent economy in the 21st century. And that's why we've taken up the cause of better health care that works for our people, our businesses and our governments alike.

LIASSON: The chairman of the NGA, Republican Jim Douglas of Vermont, told the president that while in Washington, the effort to fix health care seems frozen, states are moving ahead on their own.

Governor JIM DOUGLAS (Vermont; Chairman, National Governors Association): We've talked a lot during the last day or so about health care reform, and we look forward to learning more about your proposals because while there's gridlock in Washington, if you went around that room, you couldn't tell who was a Republican or who was a Democrat.

LIASSON: That may be the case at a National Governors Association meeting, but it's the mirror image of the reflexive partisanship on Capitol Hill. The president's new health care plan, posted on the White House Web site today, is a blend of the plans passed by each House of Congress before the Democrats lost their 60-seat super majority in the Senate.

The White House has made it clear that one of the political purposes of the televised meeting on Thursday was to answer a big source of public anger with the health care effort so far, that it seemed to be happening in secret and was greased with special deals for individual members. Here's White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Mr. DAN PFEIFFER (White House Communications Director): Having a meeting with both sides of the aisle on TV for everyone to see after having had several days to review the proposal will help take away a little of the concern people had about this seeming to be something that was hatched behind closed doors. We're going to have an open, honest discussion. I think that can only help the process for both sides of the aisle.

LIASSON: Pfeiffer challenged Republicans to come to the White House on Thursday with their plan, knowing full well Republicans don't have a single plan. The GOP doesn't even share the president's non negotiable goal of extending coverage to the 30 million people without health insurance.

What the Republicans do have is a blistering critique of the Democrats' proposals, which they call a government takeover. Today the White House also made clear the president wants an up or down vote on health care, which means if he can't get 60 votes in the Senate, he's willing to use the parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation where only a simple majority is needed.

But it's not clear even after the curtain falls on Thursday's dramatic showdown, whether Mr. Obama can buck up his party to the point where Democrats can find the necessary votes in the House or the Senate. Many Democrats say those votes are not there today.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House.

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