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Governors Worry About D.C. Health Care Logjam

Democratic governors called on the federal government Sunday to alleviate health care cost burdens on budgets, and said they were frustrated states have been largely left to their own means in fending off the spikes in entitlement program spending.

President Barack Obama is expected to detail his health care reform proposal today, with both the House and Senate versions losing support in their own chambers.

With Republicans opposed to the Democratic reform proposals, and many Democrats leery of some components, governors gathered here at the National Governors Association winter meeting offered to play negotiating roles. Several Democratic governors complained that legislative inaction appeared politically savvy in Congress, but unfeasible in the states, while some Republicans said they preferred that Washington back off and permit the states to address problems.

“We're going to be the ones saddled with fixing this problem," said Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, NGA vice chair. "We're saying, ‘Get us into the game’."

At a morning roundtable, Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour echoed other Republican governors in speaking out against a further federalization of the nation’s health care, pointing to escalating price tags of federal programs.

The weekend confab was scheduled initially to discuss implementation of a law expected to have cleared Congress and Obama’s pen – passage upended by several detours, not least of which was last month’s election of Sen. Scott Brown, viewed nationally as a warning shot against the health care legislation. With no federal assistance or mandates yet sent their way, the state house CEOs said they could serve as advisors.

"We are making an offer to help and are very willing to roll up our sleeves and help if that's what Congress and the president decided," said Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. Democratic Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe suggested sending a video of Sunday’s plenary session on health care to each member of Congress to prod action.

Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, on ABC’s “This Week,” said of a health care bill, “This is what compromise is all about. You've got to have two opposing point of views. You try to bring them together and try to find out where is the sweet spot here? . . . If there is a will, there's a way. If you really want to serve the people and not just your party, I think you will find that sweet spot and you can get it done.”

Florida's Republican governor, Charlie Crist, appeared Monday morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe, and also said Congress needed to get moving, and that Republicans have a role to play. “People have to put forth ideas – common sense ideas to make a difference,” Crist said. Referring to the U.S. Capitol in the background, Crist, who is running for the U.S. Senate, said “this place behind me is in gridlock.”

During the conference, details of the reform remained exclusive, even at policy seminars devoted to health care, and Republican governors were less enthusiastic.

Gov. Deval Patrick told the News Service he was surprised by the level of support from governors across the country in curbing the “fee for services” system of paying for health care. Patrick said he was pleased his announcement last month that he would impose a “soft cap” on health care premium increases significantly out of step with the consumer price index had prompted a broader discussion on cost control.

“It has provoked exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping for,” Patrick said.

Noting that he and Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican with whom Patrick appeared Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” had collaborated on a number of issues, Patrick said, “I think there is a difference in the role of being a governor, because you have to make decisions. You can’t just dance.”

Boasting during the morning session of Massachusetts’s nearly 98 percent health coverage rate, Patrick said the state and national system still needed residents to take better care of themselves as rising costs continue to haunt the system.

“There is a responsibility that individuals [and families] must take around wellness, so we can move to a health care system and away from a sick care system, which is what we have now,” Patrick said during a morning session.

Patrick said the 2006 health care expansion had added roughly 1 percent to the operating budget, roughly $27 billion in the current fiscal year, because the movement toward universal care allowed reductions in a broad number of accounts.

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