Economy Focus Of Obama, Governors Meeting

President-elect Barack Obama will meet Monday with governors from across the nation to discuss the potential plans for an economic stimulus package. Two of the governors who will be present — Republican Jim Douglas of Vermont and Democrat Chris Gregoire of Washington — talk to Andrea Seabrook about economic stimulus from the states' point of view.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Healthcare is high on President-elect Obama's agenda, and it's sure to come up on Tuesday, when he meets with many of the nation's governors. The meeting's main focus, though - economic stimulus from the state's point of view.

We'll talk now to two of the governors who'll be sitting down with Mr. Obama. First, Jim Douglas, a Republican from Vermont. Welcome to the show, governor.

Governor JIM DOUGLAS (Republican, Vermont): Well, thank you, Andrea. Great to be with you.

SEABROOK: Now, you're the vice chair of the National Governor's Association. What do you hope to accomplish with the president-elect?

Governor DOUGLAS: We expect to talk specifically about an economic stimulus package that's being discussed in Washington now. Governor Rendell, our chairman, and I have sent a letter to the congressional leadership with two specific requests.

One, some additional support for transportation infrastructure. There are literally thousands of road, bridge, and rail projects ready to go that could be underway in just a few months if the federal support is forthcoming.

Secondly, we're going to ask for additional support for Medicaid. In a recession, the case load grows. So because it's such a large part of the budgets of all the states, that would alleviate budgetary pressure and continue that important program.

SEABROOK: You're a Republican, and not all of your fellow Republican governors have been as public about wanting or requesting federal assistance at the state level. It does seem a bit odd for a Republican to ask for greater federal government help.

Governor DOUGLAS: At a time of recession, history and economics indicate that additional federal appropriations can really make a difference. One economist who testified before the U.S. Senate Budget Committee said that over the next couple of years, the unemployment rate could be two or three percentage points lower if the federal government were to take these important steps. So ordinarily, I'd urge restraint in spending, but at this point in the economic cycle, it's really the only way we're going to get out of this situation.

SEABROOK: Jim Douglas, the governor of Vermont and the vice chair of the National Governors Association. Sir, thank you very much for coming on the program.

Governor DOUGLAS: Thank you, Andrea.

SEABROOK: We turn now to Chris Gregoire. She's the Democratic governor of Washington, and she's just been re-elected. Welcome to the program, and welcome back to your office.

Governor CHRIS GREGOIRE (Democrat, Washington): Well, thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

SEABROOK: So what are you going to tell the president-elect?

Governor GREGOIRE: Well, you know, we had a meeting in Chicago shortly after Senator Obama secured the nomination. And my message at that round table discussion was, we would very much like a second stimulus package to be basically a grant with, of course, accountability attached to it, but allow the governors, in working with their local communities, to come up with ready-to-go-projects that could put people in our respective states back to work and build our infrastructure.

SEABROOK: You sit on the infrastructure taskforce at the National Governors Association. Can you explain to me how exactly this federal money for bridges and roads really helps the state's economy? Just follow the trail of the money for me.

Governor GREGOIRE: Well, the fact of the matter is, not all that long ago, the Federal Department of Transportation was a major player when it came to mega projects in the states. They would fund as much as 90 percent. Today, they fund less than five percent.

Let me give you an example. We have a bridge now that connects Oregon and Washington. Two lanes of it were built in the early 1900s. Obviously, it needs to be replaced because across that bridge flows truck traffic that literally comes from California north and Canada south. So you can see how important that structure is to our economy. Yet, we don't really have any federal partnership to make it happen.

SEABROOK: A kind of a governmental theory question for you, finally. How much is it fair to expect the federal government to pay for when it comes to stimulus, and how much should be done at the state's level?

Governor GREGOIRE: I think this is a real partnership, and I think we've lost the partnership. We have absorbed federal cuts to things like mental health and law enforcement and even Homeland Security over the last several years. And we've had to fill in those cuts. We can't afford to do that any longer.

SEABROOK: Chris Gregoire is the governor of Washington state. Thank you very much for your time, governor.

Governor GREGOIRE: Andrea, thank you and have a great day.

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