Press Releases

Nation’s Governors Convene Meeting in Nashville

Press release from the National Governors Association; July 9, 2014:

WASHINGTON—Governors from across the country will gather in Nashville, Tennessee, July 10-13, for the National Governors Association (NGA) Summer Meeting to discuss innovative work in states in several areas, including education, workforce, health care, veterans and jobs. Through NGA, governors share best practices, speak with a collective voice on national policy and develop innovative solutions that improve state government and support the principles of federalism.

“I am honored to host the nation’s governors in Nashville, Tennessee,” said Host Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. “NGA meetings bring us together to consider the important issues facing our states, hear new ideas and share best practices. I look forward to a great weekend of substantive conversation as well as the chance to showcase Tennessee and all we have to offer to my colleagues.”

The Summer Meeting business sessions officially begin Friday, July 11, with a news conference at which the NGA chair, vice chair and host governor will highlight the weekend’s events and governors’ collective priorities. Governors will then be joined at the opening session by the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.

Following the opening session, the Economic Development and Commerce Committee will go over actions states can take to help small and medium-sized businesses create jobs and grow state economies. Concurrently, the Education and Workforce Committee will convene to talk about the role of education in economic development. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is the featured guest of that committee.

Saturday morning begins with a meeting of the Health and Human Services Committee, where governors will explore the changing health care landscape with a panel of experts and industry leaders. Saturday’s special session will highlight Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s Chair’s Initiative, America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.

The initiative is about making significant improvements to education systems and workforce training programs to better align them with the needs of business and labor markets. It focuses on ensuring that a new generation of workers can secure good jobs with living wages and access to a middle-class lifestyle. Governors will be joined at this session by Stephen J. Rohleder, Accenture group chief executive, North America.

“This work is essential to ensuring a bright future for our children and strengthening our state economies,” said Gov. Fallin. “Part of that is establishing a ‘new minimum’ for economic success: either a two-year or four-year college degree or relevant workforce certification. Without some kind of postsecondary education, a majority of our children and working adults will find it hard to achieve the American Dream and access a fulfilling middle-class life or beyond.”

Saturday afternoon, the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee will discuss employing the nation’s veterans. This session will provide governors an opportunity to share strategies for easing servicemember transition to civilian employment and strengthening the state partnership with key federal agencies and private-sector employers to put veterans on a path toward meaningful employment and long-term success.

Concurrently, the Natural Resources Committee will evaluate critical questions about the nation’s electric grid and integrate state solutions into the national conversation about electric grid modernization.

Official business will conclude on Sunday with a closing session on the future of Main Street. Governors will be joined by Best Buy President and Chief Executive Officer Hubert Joly.

“The Summer Meeting brings governors together in a unique forum to engage in a dialogue about important issues affecting our states,” said NGA Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. “As governors, we face many similar challenges and can learn a great deal from each other’s experiences. I look forward to continuing these valuable conversations with my colleagues.”

Throughout the meeting, governors will attend “governors-only” sessions, which provide an opportunity to exchange ideas about challenges facing states in a private, off-the-record setting. Governors also will recognize their outgoing colleagues and NGA Corporate Fellows who are marking 20 and 25 years of membership. The Summer Meeting will conclude with a welcome to incoming NGA Chair, Gov. Hickenlooper, and the incoming vice chair, who will be announced at the meeting. In addition, Gov. Hickenlooper will unveil his 2014-2015 Chair’s Initiative.

Press Releases

TN House Dems Hopeful About Haslam Appointment to NGA Health Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; October 23, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 23, 2013) – In what must be ironic news to the 330,000 Tennesseans waiting for a decision on Medicaid expansion, Governor Bill Haslam was chosen to Chair the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee along with vice-Chair Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

“This could be terrific news for Tennessee,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Six of the ten governors on the task force Governor Haslam was appointed to in May have made the important decision to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Hopefully Governor Haslam will learn from someone like New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez who bucked tea party extremists in order to do the right thing for her state’s working poor.”

Governor Haslam is one of five governors in the United States who still claim to be “weighing options” on Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Governor Susana Martinez decided earlier this year to expand Medicaid, saying, “[t]he election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”

“The Governor seems to have struggled with this decision,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. “Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands Tennesseans who are struggling to pay medical bills – having to make the impossible choice between food and the medicine they need. They simply can’t wait any longer for the Governor to finish his internal debate and do what is right for working families in our state.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “third way” or “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government that would utilize Medicaid expansion funds for private insurance plans. However, unlike Arkansas which has already begun implementing such a plan, the Governor has not indicated he is closer to making a decision by the January 1st deadline for initial Medicaid expansion funds.

Details on the National Governor’s Association Health and Human Services Committee can be found here:

Press Releases

Haslam Named Chairman of Nat’l Governors Assn Health Committee

Press release from the National Governors Association; October 23, 2013:

WASHINGTON—The National Governors Association (NGA) today announced the new leadership of NGA’s five standing committees for the 2013-2014 year. NGA Chair Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and NGA Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made the following appointments:

Economic Development and Commerce Committee

  • Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, chair
  • West Virgina Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, vice chair

Education and Workforce Committee

  • Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear, chair
  • Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, vice chair

Health and Human Services Committee

  • Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, chair
  • Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, vice chair

Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee

  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, chair
  • Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, vice chair

Natural Resources Committee

  • North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, chair
  • Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, vice chair

For a list of the executive committee, click here.

Education NewsTracker

Common Core Hearings Commence

The Tennessee Senate Education Committee held its first day of hearings Thursday on the controversial new nationwide Common Core Standards reform initiative.

Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham, a Somerville Republican, said her aim with the hearings is to sort through the worries people of various ideological perspectives have been increasingly expressing about Common Core, which was conceived in 2009 by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“Over the course of the last several months, many legitimate concerns have been raised about the Common Core State Standards, and many have arisen to praise the standards,” Gresham said. “More than this, the level of trust of Tennessee citizens in their federal government is at an all-time low. Around the world people are concerned with the amount of data the federal government is tracking, and the concerns about the data being collected on our children are at an all-time high. The process which led the State Board of Education to adopt the standards, as well as their exact content must be examined, and reexamined.”

Gresham characterized the Education Committee’s effort as “a fact-finding hearing.” Discussion of the standards is intended “to enlighten our understanding, not provoke animosity,” she said.

Common Core Standards have been both hailed as the next big thing in education reform as well as criticized on both the left and right.

Conservative detractors of Common Core grumble that it constitutes yet another example of improper federal interference in state affairs. They complain that the Obama administration has essentially mandated that states adopt the “voluntary” Common Core standards by making adherence to the them a requirement for federal education grants, as well as issuance of No-Child-Left-Behind waivers.

Some liberals grouse that the standards seem too complex and difficult, and that there’s no certainty they’re going to do anything to improve public-school learning environments.

Common Core State Standards are intended to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to the initiative’s mission statement on its website. The standards have been created “to be robust and relevant to the real world,” and to reflect “the knowledge and skills” needed for success in further education and careers, the statement continues.

To Gov. Bill Haslam, who is a strong supporter of Common Core, its about “about setting the standards” for what children should know by a certain grade, regardless of geographic location.

“I think Common Core is about helping everybody understand, ‘Ok, here’s what a fifth grader should know in math skills, or here’s what an eighth grader should know in reading comprehension.’ So, for that reason we think it’s really important,” Haslam told reporters after reading to kids as part of his “Imagination Library Week.” Thursday morning at the Wayne Reed Christian Childcare Center.

The first day of the Senate Education Committee hearings went by with little in the way of debate or denunciation. Thursday’s meeting consisted of opening remarks, rules for the hearing and a reading through of the standards, with questions from committee members.

Day two, Friday, is scheduled for testimonies on various aspects of the standards — such as cost, data and assessments, as well as personal perspectives and views on the standards themselves – by members of the Tennessee Department of Education, educators and various other individuals and organizations.

The Common Core Standards, which fall into two broad categories of Math and English Language Arts, were read almost in their entirety at the hearing, and the committee members piped in with questions over the course of the reading.

The questions asked by committee members ranged from when students would learn to use calculators and keyboards to whether students would be required to learn calculus or read and write cursive. Reoccurring questions cropped up around the differences between the new standards and those previously in place.

An explanation of the differences between Common Core and the state’s previous set of educational standards was initially requested by State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.

The Common Core Standards change the structure of Tennessee’s education standards by reducing the number of criteria which had to be met under the Tennessee Diploma Project, while raising the standards of the criteria that must be met, explained Emily Barton, the assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction.

Additionally, the issue of whether or not the standards provide any kind of guidelines as far as curriculum and appropriate text materials for the various grades arose on several occasions.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, asked Barton if the selection of reading materials and curriculum would be left entirely to local education agencies, with no state oversight.

“You might have somebody in Bradley County decide to use…Gone with the Wind, and somebody in Hamilton County decide, well, we need to look at a collection of Playboy magazines,” Gardenhire suggested. “Is there a criteria for value that the state has?”

State law requires that local school boards adopt the textbooks that will be used in their community’s schools, Barton explained.

“The selection of textbooks is not the same as the standards themselves, but I will happily answer that the statute of the state places ultimate selection authority of textbooks in the local community,” Barton said.

The Senate Education Committee will be holding hearings sometime this fall to review the state’s textbook selection process, Gresham added.

The second portion of the hearings is scheduled to begin 9 AM, Friday.

Press Releases

Haslam Named Co-chair of Nat’l Governor’s Assoc. Health Care Task Force

Press release from the National Governor’s Association; May 21, 2013:

WASHINGTON—As lawmakers at both state and federal levels of government look for ways to improve the quality of health care and reduce the costs of public programs, governors are developing innovative Medicaid programs and must retain flexibility to implement these measures.

To assist in these efforts, the National Governors Association (NGA) today announced the members of a new Health Care Sustainability Task Force (Task Force). Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will serve as co-chairs of the Task Force.

Other governors serving include Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, California Gov. Jerry Brown, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. NGA Health and Homeland Security Chair Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vice Chair Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval will serve as ex-officio members.

“Right now states are looking to change how they do business in order to more effectively serve their constituents,” said Gov. Kitzhaber. “This Task Force will help states sit down together to figure out what’s working and what isn’t and identify how the federal government can best support these efforts.”

“Governors are working in their states to find ways to cut costs when it comes to health care,” said Gov. Haslam. “It is our responsibility to examine every possible option in an effort to make sure promising new initiatives can be fully utilized.”

The Task Force will focus on state innovations that require the redesign of health care delivery and payment systems with the objectives of improving quality and controlling costs. Through the sharing of state experiences and best practices, the Task Force will work to identify areas where federal legislative or regulatory action is necessary to reduce barriers and further support state initiatives.

Press Releases

Nashville Gets 2014 National Governors Conference

Press Release from the National Governor’s Association, Aug. 13, 2012:

Governors Select Tennessee for 2014 Annual Meeting

WASHINGTON—The National Governors Association (NGA) today announced that Nashville, Tennessee, will host the nation’s governors for its 2014 Annual Meeting, July 10-13. This will mark the third time NGA has held its Annual Meeting in the state since 1951.

“The nation’s governors are excited to be holding their meeting in Nashville, and thank Gov. Haslam for the invitation,” said NGA Vice Chair Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. “NGA meetings are an opportunity for leaders from around the country to come together across party lines to develop innovative and improved approaches to governing. Nashville will be a great setting for these discussions.” Fallin will serve as NGA Chair during the meeting.

NGA’s nine-governor executive committee selected the Volunteer State for its excellent accommodations and venue options, as well as the city’s overall appeal. Tennessee’s strong bid demonstrated the state’s ability to meet all of the association’s criteria for hosting an Annual Meeting, including numbers of properties and venues needed; central location; and transportation, security and volunteer needs.

“The NGA Annual Meeting will bring governors from across the country to Tennessee for the first time in 30 years,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “Nashville has built an international brand as Music City, and we look forward to showcasing our diverse entertainment, cultural and recreational activities along with our Southern hospitality.”

Tennessee hosted the NGA Annual Meeting in Gatlinburg in 1951 and in Nashville in 1984.

This is one of the organization’s two official business meetings held each year. The next Winter Meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., February 22-25. The next Annual Meeting will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 1-4, 2013.

Business and Economy Featured Health Care News

Haslam Anticipates Much Ado About Health Care at Nat’l Governors’ Meeting

Tennessee’s highest elected leader plans to spend time this weekend gabbing with other governors about how best to proceed with President Obama’s sweeping health care law.

“To be honest with you, I’m sure that will be the topic du jour,” Gov. Bill Haslam said of the 104th Annual Meeting of the National Governors Association, scheduled for July 12 through 15 in Williamsburg, Va. The governor is scheduled to travel there on Friday.

Haslam has said his administration is still wading through last month’s ruling from a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court.

One facet of the ruling that’s been particularly interesting to Haslam is that the federal government apparently can’t seek to punish states for refusing to expand Medicaid by withholding funding as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act originally suggested.

The Republican governors of Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Louisiana have said they would not implement the expansion.

Haslam says his people are still trying to figure out if Tennessee should enlarge the TennCare Medicaid program, the state’s government-run managed care system for low-income children, parents, pregnant women and the elderly.

The Affordable Care Act also calls for states to build insurance “exchanges,” which are envisioned by federal planners as online government-managed “marketplaces” where consumers can shop for approved insurance plans. The feds vow they’ll set up these exchanges on their own in states where elected leaders refuse to participate.

When other governors are talking about the issues associated with setting up exchanges and potentially expanding Medicaid, Haslam says he’ll be all ears.

“I know I’ll take the chance to say, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking about, why you’re thinking about it and where you are,’” said Haslam.

Tennessee’s governor, as well as Republican governors in other states, actually want to wait until after the November presidential election to decide how seriously to grapple with the various provisions of Obamacare. The GOP’s presumptive candidate, Mitt Romney, has promised to cast aside much if not all the Affordable Care Act should he win the presidency.

But the NGA conference isn’t in fact planned as an all-Obamacare-all-the-time weekend. State-level executive branch heads from around the country are expected to attend a slate of “Governors Only” sessions to plot potential policies for dealing with issues pertaining to agricultural, trade, spurring economic growth and serving veterans.

According to the NGA website, there isn’t even a formal session to talk about the requirements under the ACA or implications of the court ruling. One session will include talk about “innovative strategies to lower Medicaid costs.”

On that issue alone, Haslam says he has a lot of questions and is hoping for some good answers.

Business and Economy News

Governors Visit TN, Focus on Jobs

Governors attending a regional summit of the National Governors Association in Nashville Monday see themselves as being on the front line of job creation in America.

They also see a federal government that is not.

“Our states can be great laboratories for democracy at how we can solve some of our nation’s problems,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said. “I get really frustrated that Washington doesn’t always deal with solutions to the problems. They spend a lot of time being partisan, debating, but here in our states we’re able to work on those exact solutions to help bring some ideas forth.”

The official theme of the NGA initiative headed by Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska is “Growing State Economies.” Heineman is addressing what he says is the foremost issue facing the nation.

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi went right at Washington for taking its eye off the ball, in his estimation.

“Governors are more focused on job creation and economic growth than anybody else in government because we deal with it on a daily basis,” Barbour said. “When jobs are lost in Mississippi or Oklahoma or Tennessee or Nebraska, the governor knows about it the day it happens.

“When jobs are created, we also are the first ones to try to get out there and pat the people on the back and tell them they need to do more of it. Unfortunately, the federal government is not focused enough on job creation. For the first few years of this administration, most of the time was spent on health care.”

Barbour said it is a case of a “more-than-one-year-long absorption of the federal government’s attention to create a government-run health care system that is going to make health care more expensive.

“Ironically, the effect of that on job creation, our No. 1 priority, is that when employers don’t understand and have no way of knowing the obligations and costs of providing health care for their employees, how do they create more jobs?”

Uncertainty has been one of the key elements of economic discussions across the nation. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who hosted the summit at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel, has repeatedly noted a lack of confidence both among potential employers who would have to risk capital and consumers who are reluctant to spend in the current environment.

But there seemed to be agreement among the four governors at the summit that government’s role is not to create jobs but simply create an environment conducive to job growth.

That theme played out in references to too much government regulation and the value of tort reform. But in Haslam’s own state, there has been debate about the premise that government cannot create jobs.

Democrats have conducted a “jobs tour” across the statelooking for ideas on the heels of a legislative session in which they offered a package of jobs bills. The fundamental difference in approaches does not appear likely to go away. But neither will the overwhelming Republican majority in the General Assembly, meaning many of the Democrats’ efforts will be an uphill climb for them.

The governors did find other topics apart from bashing Washington. One favorable trend they see is that due to the price of transportation and a lessening of the wage gap, jobs that had gone overseas are beginning to return to the United States. They also see the ability of small businesses to grow as a key factor in job growth.

But then there was an old-fashioned sense of patriotic optimism as well.

“What was it, 20 years ago, Japan was going to take over the world? The United States was going to lose its competitive edge,” Heineman said. “We won that one. We’re going to win this one, too.”

Press Releases

Obama, Biden Address National Governors Association

White House Transcript of Remarks by the President and Vice President to the National Governors Association, Feb. 28, 2011:

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I’m Joe Biden — I’ll Jill Biden’s husband — (laughter) — which is how I’m getting to be known around here. You’re about to — we decided to bring in the second team now to talk to you all. (Laughter.) Folks, welcome back to the White House. And for those of you who — this is your first visit as governor, welcome and congratulations on your elections.

You know, over the last two years the new governors — the older governors will tell you, or at least the ones who’ve been around for two years, will tell you they probably got tired of hearing from me. I was on the phone with you all so often during the Recovery Act. I know none of you liked the Recovery Act much. (Laughter.)

But I just want to start off by thanking the governors who’ve been here for the last two years for the way in which you implemented it. I just wanted to give you a little fact. There were over 75,000 individual projects that went on in your states and a total of 250,000 awards, meaning a check had to be cut to 250,000 different entities. And a group of IGs and outside examiners pointed out there’s less than 1/100th of 1 percent of fraud in the entire operation. And that’s because of you. That’s because of all of you. (Applause.) And it’s because of the mayors.

The new governors, although there’s no Recovery Act, there will a be continued relationship between the federal and state and local government, and we plan on trying to use that as a template as to how to move forward so we save taxpayers money.

The recovery is underway, although I’m sure a lot of you, having to cut your budgets, don’t feel it. It’s a very difficult time for you all. And I just want you to know that I think we probably can all agree on the major initiatives. We may have a different prioritization, but we all know we have to do something about the long-term debt. We all know that we have to do something about preparing ourselves to compete in the future in terms of education, innovation and infrastructure.

But I want to remind you all that — I know you all know but sometimes our constituents, you look at some of the polling, they think we’ve already lost the future to China. They think we’ve already lost the future to India. They already think we are behind the eight ball.

We are still better positioned than any country in the world — any country in the world — to own the 21st century economically. Our GDP is bigger than that of China, Japan and Germany combined. We’re in a situation where here in the United States of America the median income is close to $50,000. In China, it’s $4,500. We wish them better. But just to put this in perspective, it’s important to know where we stand now, the platform from which we now operate, and why if we do the right things we have an overwhelming prospect — an overwhelming prospect — of not only recovery here in the United States but leading the world in the 21st century.

The man I’m about to introduce to you shares your view. Americans have never settled for number two — literally. This is not hyperbole. It’s not one of these chauvinistic things. We want other nations to do well. We’ll do better if they do well. But we are not — we not — prepared, nor are you, to settle for being number two in anything.

And so, folks, that’s why we’ve laid out — the President has laid out in his State of the Union speech the need for us to innovate. We have the most innovative economy in the world. We have the freest of free-enterprise systems. We know what we’re doing. We want to unleash the free-enterprise system.

We also know that we cannot rank tied with five nations for number nine in the world in the percentage of people we graduate from our universities. It’s not acceptable. It’s simply not acceptable. That’s why by 2020, we will, in fact, be once again leading the world as we did in the past. That is a goal, a goal we will meet. As my wife you just heard from, a community college teacher, would say, any nation that out-educates us is going to out-compete us. It’s as simple and as basic as that.

And thirdly, we cannot have a 20th century infrastructure for the 21st century — a 20th century infrastructure, as all of you know, that in fact is already in some areas teetering on needing major, major repairs. And by infrastructure, we not only mean ports, road, airports; we also mean modern infrastructure from broadband to the new changes that are going to have to take place for what reason — to make American business more competitive, to make American employees more hire-able, if you will. There’s no such word, but able to be hired. (Laughter.) But the neighborhood I come from people understand what I say. (Laughter.)

And so, folks, look, I just want to introduce you to the guy who — as I said, we’ll disagree in the details, but I’m sure you share this man’s view, there is no — no, no, no — acceptable rationale for America being anything other than number one in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States of America. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat. Thank you so much. Well, thank you, Joe. Thank you to the members of my Cabinet and my administration who are here. Thank you, Governor Gregoire and Governor Heineman, for your outstanding leadership. And I also want to acknowledge Ray Scheppach. Where’s Ray? There he is — who’s been NGA’s executive director for 28 years, and this is his final meeting. So, Ray, thank you for your extraordinary service. (Applause.) Thank you.

So I hope everybody had fun last night. I know that you had a wonderful time listening to Michelle and Jill. Joe’s main function is to provide a buffer between me and them so that I don’t have to follow them immediately — (laughter) — because they are really good and care deeply about what’s happening with military families.

I hope today, all of you, feel free to make yourselves at home. For those of you with a particular interest in the next election, I don’t mean that literally. (Laughter.)

We meet at a moment when all of us — Democrats and Republicans, leaders at the national and the state levels — face some very big challenges. Our country has come through a long and wrenching recession. And as we recover, the question we’re going to have to answer is: Where will the new jobs come from? What will the new sources of economic growth be? And how can we make sure that the American Dream remains a reality into the 21st century?

Now, in the short term, we came together here in Washington at the end of last year and enacted tax cuts that are already making Americans’ paychecks bigger and are allowing businesses to write off major investments. These are tax cuts and changes in the tax credit system that are going to spur job creation and economic growth, and I’m proud that Democrats and Republicans worked with each other to get it done.

In the long term, however, we need to address a set of economic challenges that, frankly, the housing bubble largely papered over for almost a decade. We now live in a world that’s more connected and more competitive than ever before. When each of you tries to bring new jobs and industries to your state, you’re not just competing with each other, but you’re competing with China, you’re competing with India, you’re competing with Brazil, you’re competing with countries all around the world.

And that means that we as a nation need to make sure that we are the best place on Earth to do business. We need a skilled and educated workforce, a commitment to cutting-edge research and technology, and a fast and reliable transportation and communications network. That’s how we’re going to bring new jobs to America, and that’s how we’re going to win the future.

Making these necessary investments would be hard at any time. But it’s that much harder at a time when resources are scarce. After living through a decade of deficits and a historic recession that made them worse, we can’t afford to kick the can down the road any longer. So the budget debate that we’re having is going to be critical here in Washington. And so far, most of it’s been focused almost entirely on how much of annual domestic spending — what in the parlance we all domestic discretionary spending — that we should cut. There’s no doubt that cuts in discretionary spending have to be a part of the answer for deficit reduction.

And that’s why, as a start, I’ve proposed a five-year spending freeze that will reduce our deficits by $400 billion. The budget that I sent to Congress cuts or eliminates more than 200 federal programs. And it reforms dozens of others, from health care to homeland security to education, so that rather than throwing money at programs with no accountability or measured results, we’re committed to funding only those things that work.

All told, the budget cuts I’ve proposed will bring annual domestic spending to its lowest share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower. Let me repeat that. Under my budget, if it were to be adopted, domestic discretionary spending would be lower as a percentage of GDP than it was under the nine previous administrations, including under Ronald Reagan’s.

But we know that this kind of spending, domestic discretionary spending, which has been the focus of complaints about out-of-control federal spending, makes up only about 12 percent of the entire budget. If we truly want to get our deficit under control, then we’re going to have to cut excessive spending wherever it exists — in defense spending — and I have to say that Bob Gates has been as good a steward of taxpayer dollars when it comes to the Pentagon as just about anybody out there, but we’re going to have to do more — in health care spending, on programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and in spending through tax breaks and loopholes. That’s going to be a tough conversation to have, but it’s one we need to have, and it’s one I expect to have with congressional leaders in the weeks to come.

Those of you who are in this room obviously are on the front lines of this budget debate. As the Recovery Act funds that saw through many states over the last two years are phasing out — and it is undeniable that the Recovery Act helped every single state represented in this room manage your budgets, whether you admit it or not — you face some very tough choices at this point on everything from schools to prisons to pensions.

I also know that many of you are making decisions regarding your public workforces, and I know how difficult that can be. I recently froze the salaries of federal employees for two years. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation that we’re in.

So I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that. Democrats and Republicans agree with that. In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts.

But let me also say this: I don’t think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated or vilified or their rights are infringed upon. We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service. These times demand it. We’re not going to attract the best teachers for our kids, for example, if they only make a fraction of what other professionals make. We’re not going to convince the bravest Americans to put their lives on the line as police officers or firefighters if we don’t properly reward that bravery.

So, yes, we need a conversation about pensions and Medicare and Medicaid and other promises that we’ve made as a nation. And those will be tough conversations, but necessary conservations. As we make these decisions about our budget going forward, though, I believe that everyone should be at the table and that the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail. If all the pain is borne by only one group — whether it’s workers, or seniors, or the poor — while the wealthiest among us get to keep or get more tax breaks, we’re not doing the right thing. I think that’s something that Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree on.

Now, as we begin to get our budgets under control, the other thing we can’t do is sacrifice our future. Even as we cut back on those things that don’t add to growth or opportunity for our people, we have to keep investing in those things that are absolutely necessary to America’s success — education, innovation, infrastructure.

On education, our approach has been to partner with you — to offer more flexibility in exchange for better standards; to lift the cap on charter schools; to spur reform not by imposing it from Washington, but by asking you to come up with some of the best ways for your states to succeed. That was the idea behind Race to the Top: You show us the best plans for reform; we’ll show you the money.

We’re also working with you and with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind with a focus on reform, responsibility and, most importantly, results. And we’re trying to give states and schools more flexibility to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad teachers, because we know that the single most important factor in a child’s success other than their parents is the man or woman at the front of the classroom.

And I had a chance to see this recently. I went over to Parkville Middle School in Maryland, where engineering is now the most popular subject, mainly thanks to some outstanding teachers who have inspired students to focus on their math and their science skills. So we know teachers can make a difference, and we want to help you have the very best teachers in the classroom.

We also have to invest in innovation — in American research and technology, in the work of our scientists and engineers, and in sparking the creativity and imagination of our people.

Now, a lot of this obviously is done in the private sector. But as much as the private sector is the principal driver of innovation it’s often hesitant to invest in the unknown, especially when it comes to basic research. Historically, that’s been a federal responsibility. It’s how we ended up with things like the computer chip and the GPS. It’s how we ended up with the Internet. It’s also how a lot of your states are already attracting jobs and industries of the future.

I went to Wisconsin, for example, a few weeks ago, and I visited a small-town company called Orion that’s putting hundreds of people to work manufacturing energy-efficient lights in a once-darkened plant. They benefited from federal research.

In Ohio and Pennsylvania, thanks in part to federal grants, I saw universities and businesses joining together to make America a world leader in biotechnology and in clean energy. And if you have any doubt about the importance of this federal investment in research and development, I would suggest that you talk to the cutting-edge businesses in your own states. They will tell you that if we want the next big breakthrough, the next big industry to be an American breakthrough, an American industry, then we can’t sacrifice these investments in research and technology.

The third way that we need to invest is in our infrastructure — everything from new roads and bridges to high-speed rail and high-speed Internet — projects that create hundreds of thousands of private sector jobs. And I know that in some of your states, infrastructure projects have garnered controversy. Sometimes they’ve gotten caught up in partisan politics.

This hasn’t traditionally been a partisan issue. Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a civil war. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway System. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything. We don’t have third-rate airports and third-rate bridges and third-rate highways. That’s not who we are. We shouldn’t start going down that path.

New companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information — whether they’re in Chicago or they’re in Shanghai. And I want them to be here, in the United States. So to those who say that we can’t afford to make investments in infrastructure, I say we can’t afford not to make investments in infrastructure. We always have had the best infrastructure. The notion that somehow we’d give up that leadership at this critical juncture in our history makes no sense.

Just ask the folks that I met up in Marquette, Michigan — I was talking to Rick Snyder about this — up in the Upper Peninsula. This is a town of 20,000 people far away from the hustle and bustle of places like Detroit or Grand Rapids. But because of the wireless infrastructure that they have set up, they’ve now got — the local department store, third generation family-owned department store, has been able to hook up with the university and have access to wireless, and they are now selling two-thirds of their goods online. They’re one of the 5,000 fastest growing companies in America — up in the Upper Peninsula because the infrastructure was in place to allow them to succeed.

And you’ve got kids in schoolhouses in even more remote areas who are able to plug in to lectures and science fairs anywhere in America because of the infrastructure that was set up. That’s a smart investment for every state to make. And the federal government wants to be your partner in making those investments.

These are the kinds of investments that pay huge economic dividends in terms of jobs and growth. They are the fundamentals that allow some states to weather economic storms better than others. They’re the fundamentals that will make some states better positioned to win the future than others. These investments are not just critical for your state’s success; they’re critical for America’s success. And I want to be a partner in helping you make that happen.

Which brings me to the final topic that’s going to help determine our ability to win the future, and that’s getting control of our health care costs. Now, I am aware that I have not convinced everybody here to be a member of the Affordable Care Act fan club. But surely we can agree that for decades, our governments, our families, our businesses watched as health costs ate up more and more of their bottom line. There’s no disputing that. That didn’t just happen last year. It didn’t just happen two years ago. It’s been going on for years now.

We also know that the biggest driver of the federal debt is Medicare costs. Nothing else comes close. We could implement every cut that the House of Representatives right now has proposed and it would not make a dent in our long-term budget, wouldn’t make a dent in our long-term deficits — because of healthcare costs. We know it’s one of the biggest strains in your state budgets — Medicaid.

And for years, politicians of both parties promised one thing: real reform. Everybody talked about it. Well, we’ve decided to finally do something about it — to create a structure that would preserve our system of private health insurance; would protect our consumers from the worst abuses of insurance companies; would create competition and lower costs by putting in place new exchanges, run by the states, where Americans could pool together to increase their purchasing power and select from various plans to choose what’s best for them — the same way that members of Congress do, the same way that those who are lucky enough to work for big employers do.

And the fact is, that the Affordable Care Act has done more to rein in rising costs, make sure everyone can buy insurance, and attack the federal deficit than we’ve seen in years. And that’s not just my opinion; that’s the opinion of the Congressional Budget Office — nonpartisan — the same one that puts out numbers that when it’s handy to go after me, people trot out and say, boy, these are — look at these numbers. So they’re saying we’re saving a trillion bucks because of this act on our health care costs. Otherwise, we’d be a trillion dollars more in the red. That’s something that we should build on, not break down.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the job of health care reform is complete. We still have to implement the law, and we have to implement it in a smart and non-bureaucratic way. I know that many of you have asked for flexibility for your states under this law. In fact, I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he’s proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions. He’s right. Alabama is not going to have exactly the same needs as Massachusetts or California or North Dakota. We believe in that flexibility.

So right now, under the law, under the Affordable Care Act,

Massachusetts and Utah already operate exchanges of their own that are very different — operate them in their own way. And we made sure that the law allowed that. The same applies for other requests, like choosing benefit rules that meet the needs of your citizens, or allowing for consumer-driven plans and health savings accounts.

And this recognition that states need flexibility to tailor their approach to their unique needs is why part of the law says that, beginning in 2017, if you can come up with a better system for your state to provide coverage of the same quality and affordability as the Affordable Care Act, you can take that route instead. That portion of the law has not been remarked on much. It says by 2017, if you have a better way of doing it, help yourself, go ahead, take that route.

Now, some folks have said, well, that’s not soon enough. So a few weeks ago, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, a Republican, and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, they proposed legislation that would accelerate that provision. So it would allow states to apply for such a waiver by 2014 instead of 2017.

I think that’s a reasonable proposal. I support it. It will give you flexibility more quickly, while still guaranteeing the American people reform. If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does — without increasing the deficit — you can implement that plan. And we’ll work with you to do it. I’ve said before, I don’t believe that any single party has a monopoly on good ideas. And I will go to bat for whatever works, no matter who or where it comes from.

I also share your concern about Medicaid costs. I know this has been a topic of significant conversation over the last couple of days. We know that over half of all Medicaid costs come from just 5 percent of enrollees, many of whom are what’s called dual eligibles — seniors in Medicare as well as in Medicaid. The Affordable Care Act helps address this by changing the incentives for providers so that they start adopting best practices that will work to reduce cost while improving quality.

But we understand the pressure you’re under. We understand that we’ve got to do more. So today — and I mentioned this to Christine last night — I’m asking you to name a bipartisan group of governors to work with Secretary Sebelius on ways to lower costs and improve the quality of care for these Americans. And if you can come up with more ways to reduce Medicaid costs while still providing quality care to those who need it I will support those proposals as well.

So here’s the bottom line. Once fully implemented, I’m convinced the Affordable Care Act will do what it was designed it to do — cut costs, cover everybody, end the worst abuses in the insurance industry, and bring down our long-term deficits. I am not open to re-fighting the battles of the last two years, or undoing the progress that we’ve made. But I am willing to work with anyone — anybody in this room, Democrat or Republican, governors or member of Congress — to make this law even better; to make care even better; to make it more affordable and fix what needs fixing.

You see, part of the genius of our Founders was the establishment of a federal system in which each of our states serves as a laboratory for our democracy. Through this process, some of the best state ideas became some of America’s best ideas. So whether it’s through Race to the Top, or improving the Affordable Care Act, or reforming the way that we approach social programs by ensuring that spending is tied to success, our approach has been to give you the flexibility that you need to find your own innovative ways forward. In fact, this week I’m issuing a Presidential Memorandum that instructs all government agencies to follow this flexible approach wherever the law allows.

But even as we preserve the freedom and diversity that is at the heart of federalism, let’s remember that we are one nation. We are one people. Our economy is national. Our fates are intertwined. Today, we’re not competing with each other; we’re competing with other countries that are hungry to win new jobs, hungry to win new industries.

I’m confident we will win this competition as long as we’re fighting it together. And I know that, whatever our differences, you share that goal. So you’ve got a partner in the White House to make this happen. And I hope that this becomes the start of a productive and serious conversation going forward — one that I want to start by answering some of your questions.

So thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you.


11:47 A.M. EST

News NewsTracker

Guv in DC for NGA & RGA Winter Meetings

Gov. Bill Haslam is in Washington, DC today for National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association conferences.

Here’s the NGA press release:

Governors to Focus on State Fiscal Conditions, Job Creation, Health Care, and Education

WASHINGTON (2/26/11)—Governors from across the nation gather this weekend to address critical issues, including state fiscal conditions, job creation, health care and education during the National Governors Association (NGA) 2011 Winter Meeting. Governors will also meet with President Obama, members of the Administration, members of Congress, business leaders and industry experts for discussions on a range of issues and challenges facing states.

Led by NGA Chair Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and NGA Vice Chair Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, business sessions at the three-day event will include two plenaries and meetings of the five NGA committees. The NGA Winter Meeting will run from February 26-28 in Washington, D.C.

This morning, the official business portion of the meeting will begin with an opening plenary session highlighting job creation, which continues to be a top priority for governors. Governors will be joined by Dr. Michael E. Porter of the Harvard Business School, who will provide an overview of the key elements needed to grow a state’s economy. The party secretary of the Hunan Provincial Committee, Zhou Qiang, is leading a delegation of Chinese officials interested in establishing a subnational dialogue with NGA and will conclude the session.

“As governors, we face similar situations every day,” Gov. Gregoire said. “Our country is still faced with an unprecedented fiscal crisis, and we must make tough choices for our states. But with these challenges comes great opportunity. The unique bipartisan structure of NGA meetings enables us to put politics aside and have candid conversations to develop innovative and improved approaches to governing.”

Using other high-performing countries as a guide, the Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee will meet this afternoon to focus on concrete action steps that governors can take to improve education in their states.

On Sunday, the Economic Development and Commerce, Health and Human Services and Natural Resources committees and the Special Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety will all meet for policy discussions. These sessions will focus on the state of public finance; turning health care cost challenges into opportunities for reform; the development of domestic resources; and cybersecurity, respectively.

Private “governors-only” sessions, including a meeting with President Obama and Cabinet members at the White House, provide governors the opportunity for dialogue on a variety of issues facing states.

“I’m excited to be here with my fellow governors, including many who are here for the first time,” said Gov. Heineman. “The NGA Winter Meeting gives governors the opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges facing our states and the solutions to address them.”

The meeting will conclude Monday afternoon, with a plenary session focused on Gov. Gregoire’s chair’s initiative, Complete to Compete. Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will join governors to discuss the importance of increasing college attainment rates for economic competitiveness and highlight options for boosting these rates with existing resources.