Published January 31, 2009
NEW YORK -- Most Republican governors have broken with their GOP colleagues in Congress and are pushing for passage of President Barack Obama's economic aid plan that would send billions to states for education, public works and health care.
Their state treasuries drained by the financial crisis, governors would welcome the money from Capitol Hill, where GOP lawmakers are more skeptical of Obama's spending priorities.
The 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, planned to meet in Washington this weekend with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other senators to press for her state's share of the package.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist worked the phones last week with members of his state's congressional delegation, including House Republicans. Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, the Republican vice chairman of the National Governors Association, planned to be in Washington on Monday to urge the Senate to approve the plan.
"As the executive of a state experiencing budget challenges, Gov. Douglas has a different perspective on the situation than congressional Republicans," said Douglas' deputy chief of staff, Dennise Casey.
Not a single Republican voted with the majority last week when the House approved Obama's $819 billion combination of tax cuts and new spending. The president's goal is to create or preserve 3 million to 4 million jobs.
Republicans led by House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio complained that the plan is laden with pet projects and will not yield the jobs or stimulate the economy in the way Obama has promised.
The measure faces GOP opposition in the Senate, where it will be up for a vote in the week ahead.
But states are coping with severe budget shortfalls and mounting costs for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. So governors, including most Republicans, are counting on the spending to help keep their states afloat.
This past week the bipartisan National Governors Association called on Congress to quickly pass the plan.
"States are facing fiscal conditions not seen since the Great Depression -- anticipated budget shortfalls are expected in excess of $200 billion," the NGA statement said. "Governors ... support several key elements of the bill critical to states-increased federal support for Medicaid and K-12 and higher education; investment in the nation's infrastructure; and tax provisions to spur investment."
Clyde Frazier, a professor of political science at Meredith College in North Carolina, said it wasn't politically inconsistent for Republican governors and members of Congress to part ways on the stimulus plan.
"For governors, it's free money -- they get the benefits and they don't have to pay the costs of raising the revenues," Frazier said. "Senators and representatives get only some credit for the expenditures, and they have to pay the bill."
That's not to say Republican governors are entirely enthusiastic about the plan. Some worry about the debt incurred through so much federal borrowing.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former member of the House, said he would accept the stimulus money but would have voted against the bill if he were still in Congress. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he wasn't sure whether he would accept the approximately $3 billion his state would be in line for.
"Yes, we need some help and we appreciate the help," Barbour said in an interview. "But I don't know about the details and the strings attached to tell you if I'll take all of it or not."
The most outspoken critic has been South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who has warned for months of a steep spike in inflation and a severely weakened dollar if Obama's plan passed. His state is on track to receive $2.1 billion of the stimulus money; Sanford has not yet said whether he would accept it.
"It's incumbent on me as one of the nation's governors to speak out against what I believe is ultimately incredibly harmful to the economy, to taxpayers and to the worth of the U.S. dollar," Sanford said in an interview. "This plan is a huge mistake and is going to prolong and deepen this recession."
Sanford outlined his concerns in December when the then-president-elect met with governors in Philadelphia to discuss the stimulus proposal. Sanford said he had heard nothing from the White House since then.
Associates say Sanford, who recently was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has been disappointed in how few of his GOP colleagues have joined him in speaking out against the size and scope of Obama's plan.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is widely viewed as a potential presidential contender in 2012, said governors have little choice but to accept the relief being offered. "States have to balance their budgets," he said. "So if we're going to go down this path, we are entitled to ask for our share of the money."
But Pawlenty expressed reservations about the cost of the plan and its impact on the federal deficit, which has already grown to over $1 trillion.
"I'm quite concerned about the federal government spending money it doesn't have," Pawlenty said. "We're on an unsustainable path of deficit spending and borrowing."