Nation’s governors mirror partisan divides in Washington

WASHINGTON — The nation’s governors sound every bit as divided as Washington lawmakers on how best to help the nation’s economy.

Democratic governors such as Maryland’s Martin O’Malley and Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy made pitches Sunday to raise the minimum wage, while Republican governors such as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Indiana’s Mike Pence called for more freedom from federal regulations, particularly those that are part President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul.

The governors were in Washington during the weekend as part of their annual conference and are scheduled to dine with the president at the White House Sunday evening.

Malloy said that the minimum wage in Connecticut will be gradually raised until it hits $10.10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2017. He said it needs to be adjusted to keep up with the cost of living.

“We know that the vast majority of people earning minimum wage are in fact trying to raise a family,” Malloy said Sunday.

Pence countered that state innovation will lead the economy back. “I think the basic message is more freedom and more flexibility, Mr. President.”

Some of the governors who came to Washington are potential presidential contenders in 2016, but that’s not something they were ready to discuss Sunday.

“The honest answer is, I don’t know,” Jindal said in response to question about exploring a White House run. “We’ve got 36 governor’s races this year,” adding that Republicans are also trying to gain control of the Senate and keep control of the House.

“We’re focused on that,” he said.

Jindal was more interested in talking about differences among lawmakers over how to boost the economy. He said the domestic production of energy can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.

“Why not approve the Keystone Pipeline today?” Jindal said.

The project remains under review by several federal agencies before Obama makes a decision. Opponents of the pipeline fear it will extend U.S. dependence on fossil fuels that warm the planet, and that oil spills could seep into the Ogallala Aquifer that provides water to eight states in the central U.S.

Jindal also said that delaying all mandates that are part of the health insurance overhaul would boost employers’ ability to hire more workers.

Governors have been confronted with critical decisions about the health overhaul that will largely define their tenures. Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., defended his state’s health insurance exchange, where small businesses have been forced to sign up directly with insurance companies instead of through the exchange.

“There isn’t an exchange in the country that hasn’t had a challenge in the rollout. We acknowledge that. But Vermont happens to be the state that has signed up more people per capita for affordable health care than any other state in the nation, including the federal exchange,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin was critical of governors who have declined to accept federal funding to expand health insurance to low-income residents through Medicaid, saying they’re hurting constituents because “they don’t like the president, because they want to make a political point.”

Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., said the state has been able to expand health insurance coverage to those living in poverty without accepting federal money that in the future could put the state’s taxpayers at risk.

“Even before the Medicaid expansion I had to add $600 million more to Medicaid. Almost 40 percent of that was to fill in the federal government reneging on commitments they’ve already made,” Walker said. “That commitment’s not going to be there, and taxpayers all across America are going to be on the hook. They’re not going to be on the hook in Wisconsin.”

Malloy appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union”; Jindal spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Shumlin and Walker made their comments on “Fox News Sunday.”

This report was written by Associated Press reporter Kevin Freking.