KWAME HOLMAN: The National Governors Association wrapped up four days of meetings in Washington feeling particularly accomplished about its work toward overhauling Medicaid, the $155 billion health care program for the poor. Association chairman Wisconsin Republican Tommy Thompson praised the bipartisan work of his fellow governors.
GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON, (R) Wisconsin: They forgot for a time that they were "R's" or "D's." They came here with the, with the understanding they had to some real heaving lifting, a job had to be done, and they did it.
KWAME HOLMAN: Changing the Medicaid program, along with welfare reform, have been key obstacles to a balanced budget agreement between the White House and Congress. Medicaid costs alone consume about 20 percent of a state's budget, and are rising fast, facts that put pressure on the governors to come up with their own plan to restructure the system, and that's what they did.
GOV. ROY ROEMER, Colorado: I truly believe that Medicaid is the Gordian knot of this budget dilemma, and I think you know we now have a framework, a statement of principle, a guideline, a policy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Under the governors' Medicaid plan, health coverage would be guaranteed to poor pregnant women, children under 12, the elderly, and the disabled. But beyond that, states would have the flexibility to design their own Medicaid programs. Federal Medicaid funding to each state would be based on its need. But states would be able to tap into a separate pot of federal money in cases of emergency or during a downturn in the economy. President Clinton, who met with the governors several times during the course of their discussions, welcomed the governors' recommendations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have known for a long time that you shouldn't have to ask the federal government every time you want to change your payment schedule to providers and every time you want to put in a new managed care program or make some other change. You have come up with a proposal that enables you to have that kind of flexibility and still preserves the nation's ability to guarantee medical care for poor children, for pregnant women, for people with disabilities and older Americans. This is a huge step in the right direction.
KWAME HOLMAN: The governors also approved recommendations for welfare reform, including $4 billion more for child care than the most recent congressional plan to help parents move from welfare to work. Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole told the governors their work this week may well lead to a balanced budget agreement.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Majority Leader: If you give us welfare reform and Medicaid, you've gone a long way to getting this agreement back together. I know with the President at the White House and with each other, Democrats and Republicans sitting down together, and they are the ones that will face Congress and the President in the months ahead, and on the way down I called Speaker Gingrich, who's in Georgia, and I think he had a conference call to some of the governors this morning. And we're prepared. If you want to be the honest brokers, we're prepared to act. And we believe the President will be prepared to act too.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon, several governors traveled up to Capitol Hill in hopes their set of recommendations on welfare reform and Medicaid soon will be transformed into viable legislation.