The Governors Come to Washington

BY David Chalian  February 25, 2011 at 8:20 AM EDT

President Obama; photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama waves to guests as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House earlier this week. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Most of the nation’s governors will travel to Washington this weekend for their annual winter meeting, toting traditional concerns about job creation, Medicaid funding and education policy. For Republican governors, the visit will provide them with a rare opportunity to confront President Obama on his home turf about their policy differences, including the health care reform law, environmental regulation, and now, in light of recent events in Wisconsin, the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions.

Gone are the moderates who supported the president’s 2009 stimulus package, such as California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, Florida’s Charlie Crist and Vermont’s Jim Douglas. (Douglas was such a good friend he even lent the president a hand moving a sofa in the Oval Office.)

The only thing the current crop of GOP state executives seems to want to help the president move are his policies. All 29 Republican governors signed a letter this month requesting President Obama direct the Justice Department to support an expedited review of the legal challenges to the health care reform law.

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein points to other differences in his must-read analysis of the president’s battle with GOP governors: “Republican governors in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin have also renounced federal money to build high-speed rail. Seventeen states — all but two headed by Republicans — are suing to block Obama’s effort to regulate carbon emissions.”

Brownstein frames the Republican opposition this way: “The breadth and intensity of these confrontations dwarfs the level of tension between Bill Clinton and a previous generation of conservative GOP governors in the 1990s. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of another president who faced as much resistance on as many fronts from governors in the opposite party as Obama is encountering today.”

So perhaps it’s somewhat understandable that President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have scheduled a meeting Friday only with Democratic governors before welcoming all of them to the White House on Monday for a working session.

The three-day National Governors Association event gets underway Saturday with sessions focusing on job creation and education. The agenda for Sunday includes meetings on economic development, the sustainability of the Medicaid program, federal-state partnerships relating to domestic energy production and cyber threats to state governments.

There will also be some fun involved. The president and first lady Michelle Obama will host a black-tie dinner for the governors at the White House Sunday evening.

Not every governor plans to make the trip. Newly-elected Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, for one, will remain in California. Other governors will be in town, as well, but just not at the NGA meeting.

CNN’s Peter Hamby reports: “At least three states — Texas, South Carolina and Idaho — will not pay their annual NGA dues this year, which can range from $22,000 to $176,200, and are likely to skip NGA functions.”

Spokesmen for Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C. and Gov. Butch Otter, R-Idaho, told Hamby not paying the dues would help reduce state government costs.

For more on this weekend’s meeting be sure to tune into Friday’s NewsHour for Judy Woodruff’s conversation with Gov. Mitch Daniels, R-Ind., and Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D-Mont.

HUCKABEE VS. ROMNEY, PART DEUX

The three-and-a-half years since Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee squared off against each other in Iowa have done little to cool the tensions between the two former (and possibly future) presidential candidates.

As POLITICO’s Maggie Haberman noted earlier this week, Huckabee spends some time in his new book, “A Simple Government,” declaring Romney’s health care plan in Massachusetts a failed experiment.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Friday, Huckabee offered some advice to his former rival about how he might be able to mitigate any political damage caused by his universal health care plan.

“I think it depends on how he handles it,” Huckabee told Joe Scarborough. “The brief answer is if he comes and says, ‘Look, states are supposed to do bold things and try them. I tried it. It didn’t really work. We shouldn’t try it in all fifty states because the state we tried it in, it didn’t turn out as well.’ That’s a way he could answer it,” Huckabee said.

However, it doesn’t appear that Romney plans to take that course when answering questions about one of his perceived significant challenges in the race for the GOP nomination.

The Boston Globe’s Matt Viser got this statement from Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom: “Mitt Romney is proud of what he accomplished for Massachusetts in getting everyone covered. What’s important now is to return to the states the power to determine their own healthcare solutions by repealing Obamacare. A one-size-fits-all plan for the entire nation just doesn’t work.”

Nuance is always tricky in presidential politics. As Romney continues to claim pride in his major policy accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts while slamming President Obama’s health care plan and calling for its repeal, his opponents will no doubt continue to hammer away at him on this most high-profile issue.

CONGRESS AT HOME

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post run stories Friday about House Republican freshmen selling their budget cuts back home in their districts.

The Times headed South to Florida, while the Post headed north to New Hampshire.

Both accounts reveal similar warning signs for the GOP as these members were laying the ground work for the more intense budget battles to come.

From the New York Times:

“House freshmen returned to their districts this week for their first extended recess, and began to lay out exactly what billions of dollars in spending cuts would really mean for the voters they believe sent them to Washington to make cuts.

“Many people clearly liked what they heard. But there were also hints of the challenges to come, as voters, even in reliably conservative districts, pushed back against some of the specifics.”

From the Washington Post:

“As they return to their districts after the budget debate, [Rep. Frank] Guinta and many of his fellow Republicans are discovering that fiscal responsibility can be a tricky business. Many federal programs reside in a vast gray zone, somewhere between worthy and wasteful. And while pledging to rise above local interests can establish a candidate as a principled outsider, for a member of Congress, it’s often a quick way to guarantee a short career.”