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July 20, 2009
Governors fear unfunded mandates in health care bill
The nation's governors, both Democratic and Republican, do not like what they see coming out of Washington in the health care bill.
One way the Democrats are going to pay for the monstrosity is by changing rules to shift costs of Medicaid to the states. As Kevin Sack and Robert Pear of the New York Times explain, this has engendered bi-partisan anger at the Democrat's attempt to place new burdens on states in the midst of a deep recession:
"I think the governors would all agree that what we don't want from the federal government is unfunded mandates," said Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont, a Republican, the group's incoming chairman. "We can'thave the Congress impose requirements that we are forced to absorb beyond our capacity to do so."
The governors' backlash creates yet another health care headache for the Obama administration, which has tried to recruit state leaders to pressure members of Congress to wrap up their fitful negotiations. Both Ms. Sebelius, who was Kansas' governor before she joined the cabinet in April, and the federal Medicaid chief, Cindy Mann, made appearances at the meeting on Sunday. Meanwhile, other administration officials spent the day pushing President Obama's proposal on television talk shows.
Mr. Obama also plans to address questions about his health plan at a news conference on Wednesday evening.
Ms. Sebelius emerged from her hour-long meeting with the governors saying that "there's a recognition that states don't have cash right now" and that "it's difficult to send states the bill if they don't have the money."
Although many governors said significant change in how the nation handles health care was needed, they said their deep-seated fiscal troubles made it a terrible time to shift costs to the states. With the recession draining states of tax revenues even as their Medicaid rolls are surging, the National Governors Association projects that states will face aggregate deficits of $200 billion over the next three years.
The stim bill also presented states with unfunded mandates on extended unemployment benefits. This is the wrong kind of federalism as tax dollars paid to Washington should be finding their way back to the people who paid them in the form of state services. Instead, Washington is keeping the cash while loading up the states with responsibilities they are unable to fund.
Obama's prime time news conference on health care reform will probably address this issue. If the president has lost the governors, it will be difficult to get the kind of bill he is advocating passed.