Obama Pledges To Help Governors With Recession President-elect Barack Obama promised the nation's governors swift action on an economic plan to deal with the recession. Obama spoke to members of the National Governors Association on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The states want federal money for infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.
NPR logo

Obama Pledges To Help Governors With Recession

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97735190/97735167" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Obama Pledges To Help Governors With Recession

Obama Pledges To Help Governors With Recession

Obama Pledges To Help Governors With Recession

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97735190/97735167" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

President-elect Barack Obama promised the nation's governors swift action on an economic plan to deal with the recession. Obama spoke to members of the National Governors Association on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The states want federal money for infrastructure projects like roads and bridges.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

President-elect Barack Obama has been spending time with America's governors. One of them is about to become an ex-governor - New Mexico's Bill Richardson who will be nominated today by Mr. Obama as his secretary of commerce. Yesterday in Philadelphia, Mr. Obama met with Richardson's colleagues at the National Governors Association where the talk was of the recession. And that's where NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, begins her report.

MARA LIASSON: Unlike the last two presidents, Mr. Obama has never been a governor. But he seemed to find an instant rapport with the nation's chief executives. Although he didn't put it exactly this way, he, like the last Democratic president, felt their pain.

(Soundbite of National Governors Association conference)

President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Forty-one of the states that are represented here 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 are being closed...

LIASSON: The governors know exactly what kind of help they want. At the top of their bipartisan wish list is infrastructure: money for roads, bridges, schools, broadband networks, green energy technology. According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor of California, there are $136 billion of these projects ready to start right away. In California, he said...

(Soundbite of National Governors Association conference)

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican governor, California): We have $28 billion alone of projects that are ready to go - literally putting shovels into the dirt within a few months. I mean, America has not done anything when it comes to real serious infrastructure building in the last four decades. I think it's time that we get our act together and do it. This is a good opportunity, not only because it will build infrastructure, but also it creates great jobs and it gets the economy stimulated.

LIASSON: Later in the day, members of the Democratic Governors Association boarded a train from Philadelphia to Washington for their annual meeting. And onboard they talked about the states' other pressing problems. Unlike the federal government, they can't print money. Most states, by law, have to balance their budgets. That makes it harder to fund food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, things that are countercyclical - that is they cost more in a recession because more people need them. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said without more federal money for that safety net, states would be forced to take steps that would undercut the economic stimulus the federal government is struggling to make work.

Governor KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Democrat, Kansas): If we have to balance budgets and our only choice is making cuts or raising taxes, both of those make the recession worse. So putting some dollars into programs and softening the blow really helps the economic recovery.

LIASSON: The governors said they talked with the president-elect about how to use the economic crisis as an opportunity. With the deficit no longer a political obstacle, at least for the next several years, Democrats are chomping at the bit to spend money in ways they believe will solve big problems, like our dependence on foreign oil. Here's the ambitious, optimistic vision of Brian Schweitzer, the Democratic governor of Montana.

(Soundbite of National Governors Association conference)

Governor BRIAN SCHWEITZER (Democrat, Montana): We are going to build an entire new energy system in America, and we're going to create five million new jobs. Some say, well, with the price of oil dropping from $100 plus to $50 a barrel, that the imperative is gone. Au contraire. Now we have so many more people who are unemployed, this is a great program to build a permanent new energy system, including transportation, and use the people that are currently unemployed to build them.

LIASSON: There were skeptics among the governors. Yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, Texas Governor Rick Perry and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both Republicans, warned against a bailout mentality that buries future generations under mountains of debt. And even the president-elect sounded a cautionary note.

(Soundbite of National Governors Association conference)

President-elect OBAMA: 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.

LIASSON: But that point is no time soon as Mr. Obama works with Congress to have a stimulus plan worth as much as $700 billion ready to sign as soon as he takes office. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.