PHILADELPHIA -- President-elect Barack Obama told governors Tuesday he wants their help in designing an economic recovery plan and vowed to work with Democrats and Republicans alike.
Obama spoke to a bipartisan group of state chief executives at historic Congress Hall that included some possible opponents in four years. Among the attendees was Republicans Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Sarah Palin of Alaska, the GOP vice presidential nominee, sitting in the back row.
"To our Republican colleagues, let me just say a special word," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery. "I offer you the same hand of friendship and cooperation that I offer our Democratic governors. We have a strong and vibrant democracy. We compete vigorously during an election. But with the end of that season comes the time to govern together -- and that time is now."
The meeting comes a day after the National Bureau of Economic Research announced that the U.S. economy has been in a recession for the past year. Obama said he wants the governors to work with him to turn it around.
It also comes as Obama and Democrats controlling Congress are fashioning economic recovery legislation that could cost $500 billion or so. The measure is virtually certain to contain help for states struggling with slumping revenues and difficult budget cuts as the recession deepens.
"As president, I will not simply ask our nation's governors to help implement our economic recovery plan, " Obama said. "I will ask you to help design that plan. Because if we're listening to our governors, we'll not only be doing what's right for our states, we'll be doing what's right for our country. That's how we'll grow our economy -- from the bottom-up. And that's how we'll put America on the path to long-term prosperity."
Republican and Democratic governors sat at desks in the hall, with no separation by party, and gave Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden a standing ovation when they entered. Obama, Biden and the leaders of the National Governors Association sat facing the governors at a long table, with four American flags behind them.
Biden singled out Palin for thanks and said his former rival's presence there is a sign that both parties are now in it together. "Maybe walk outside with me later and say hello to me," he said to laughter from the crowd.
The governors want Obama to provide at least $40 billion to help pay for health care for the poor and disabled and even more for infrastructure projects like road and bridge repair.
National Governors Association Chairman Ed Rendell, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said the governors are also pressing for perhaps $136 billion in infrastructure projects like road and bridge repairs in the legislation, which Democrats hope to have ready for Obama's signature as soon as he takes office.
For states, the recession has meant big reductions in tax revenues, which has forced 43 of the 50 states into budget deficits. Since virtually every state has to live under a balanced budget, governors have been forced to cut services, lay off workers and consider tax increases.
Such moves only make the economic situation more difficult, the governors say.
"Without federal help ... what we will have to do is just make continuing cuts and/or raise taxes, both of which would have a further deleterious effect on our states' economy. We simply need help," Rendell told reporters on Monday. "When the economy is bad, the social service net demands grow."
Rendell said there are upward of $136 billion in infrastructure projects that are "ready to go," chiefly road and bridge repair projects that can get started especially quickly. Water and sewer projects and school repairs are other needs.
Rendell and NGA Vice-Chairman Jim Douglas, R-Vt., met Monday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who said Democrats will work to have the economic stimulus measure ready for Obama's signature as soon as he takes office Jan. 20.
It's expected to blend funding for infrastructure projects and Medicaid aid to the states with tax cuts, a temporary increase in food stamp payments, as well as investments in renewable energy projects and other "green jobs" initiatives. The NGA has proposed $40 billion over two years to temporarily increase the federal government's contribution to the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.