WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama faced a roomful of newly elected governors yesterday, many of them Republicans elected by railing against him, and told them states can only go so far in pushing the federal government out of the way.
"There are going to be times where we do believe that having basic national standards are going to be important . . . We need to maintain some consistency across the states," the president told an audience including Florida's Gov.-elect Rick Scott and South Carolina's Gov.-elect Nikki Haley, both Republicans.
Scott, Haley and others present ran successful campaigns against what they deemed the expanding reach of the federal government, arguing for overturning Obama's health care overhaul and canceling his economic stimulus spending. Their arguments won out and Republicans will control a majority of statehouses nationwide come January.
The president stood up for the federal government, but also struck a conciliatory note, saying he welcomed states' input on how to curb spending at a time of budget shortfalls.
"We're going to be interested in hearing from all of you about programs you think are working, but also programs that you think are not working," Obama said.
"Contrary to the mythology, believe it or not, it turns out that I would love to eliminate programs that don't work," he said.
Obama spoke to the newly elected governors after they'd finished lunch at the Blair House, the guesthouse across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Of the 23 officials present, there were only four Democrats.
Afterward, several governors-elect said the meeting had been amicable although Obama was questioned about his health care legislation, a major campaign issue for a number of the Republicans.
"The obvious question is can we expect any legislative fix on the health care bill," said Georgia's governor-elect, GOP Rep. Nathan Deal.Some states want to opt out of the law entirely, or get money with the freedom to manage Medicaid or other programs without federal interference.