The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 26, 2001

Remarks by the President at National Governors' Association Meeting
The East Room

Listen to the President's Remarks

10:55 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: It's good to see you all again. I hope everybody had as fun a time last night as Laura and I did. It was -- I really enjoyed it, and thanks for coming. (Applause.)

When the history of this administration is written, it will be said the nation's governors had a faithful friend in the White House. I've sat where you're sitting and I know what it's like to have a good idea, and then to wait on the federal government to tell you whether you can try it or not.

So let me make this pledge to you all. I'm going to make respect for federalism a priority in this administration. (Applause.) Respect for federalism begins with an understanding of its philosophy. The framers of the Constitution did not believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful federal government. They believed that our freedom is best preserved when power is dispersed. That is why they limited and enumerated the federal government's powers, and reserved the remaining functions of government to the states.

And today I'm announcing a new federalism initiative. I will sign a directive creating an interagency working group on federalism. The working group will seek your opinions on the issues that governors and other leaders in local and state government believe should be addressed. The group will look for ways to speed up waivers, and to streamline rigid rules and regulations. And it will be charged with drafting a new executive order on federalism, which will require their departments and agencies to respect the rights of our states and territories. (Applause.)

We look forward to a close relationship. You've got strong advocates in my administration, starting with four former governors, Ashcroft, Thompson, Whitman and Bush. (Laughter.) We'll also have an Intergovernmental Affairs Office, run by Reuben Barrales of California, who will be responsive to your needs and your requests.

We've just lived through a decade of the most exciting, important things done by government have been done by governors. In seven years, you've reduced welfare rolls by more than half, improved millions of the lives of your fellow citizens by helping them find work. You brought new meaning to crime prevention programs. You pioneered education reforms. And many of you have shown how tax relief can reenergize state economies.

In Michigan and Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, for example, tax relief pumped adrenalin into troubled economies. I saw the same thing happen in Texas when I proposed, fought for and signed meaningful tax relief.

More than half the states have reduced taxes in each and every one of the past three years. Governors deserve more credit than you get when it comes to the prosperity of our country. The surging growth we've seen in states that have reduced taxes gives an answer to the people who say we cannot afford tax cuts. You've shown we can't afford not to cut taxes. (Applause.)

I look forward to this discussion today to discuss how best to devolve authority back to the states. Real change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. The genius of the American system has been to let that change flow upward, from neighborhoods to cities to states and then to the federal government. We need to keep that path open, to give government a human face and bring decision-making closer to the people.

I am going to rely upon my friends, the governors. I look forward to being in constant contact with you. You see, you bring common sense to the political debate. You're dedicated servants. You respect the will of the people. Our country is better off for your service.

Governor Glendening.

GOVERNOR GLENDENING: First of all, Mr. President, let me thank you for your time here this morning, but also a special thanks for the hospitality last night. You and the First Lady were extraordinarily gracious host and hostess, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. And I again want to express our appreciation for that. (Applause.)

Let me also thank you for asking your Cabinet to be available to us. I believe we have already met with and had dialogue with eight or nine different Cabinet members, and this is being very helpful both for immediate issues before us, as well as establishing relationships.

And, Mr. President, you know, you've said it in your comments, but as a former governor, the states indeed have been kind of the labs for democracy, where we've been able to try a number of different experiments. And we find what seems to work on a common sense basis. We work with the concerns of our citizens and try to figure things out. And we're so pleased that your basic philosophy about how government should work comes from the perspective of governor.

And we look forward to forming a very positive partnership with you personally, and with the national government on key domestic policy issues. We share many of the same priorities that you do for America. Today I think many of our questions and dialogue will focus on the three issues which really has been the lead points for the National Governors' Association agenda for the meeting this year: Number one, obviously, education. Secondly, a great concern about Medicaid and making the program work and what it's doing to our budgets, as well as, third, the federal budget including the tax cut issue.

On that last point, by the way, I might say that some might believe that it is strictly a coincidence that we have this meeting just a few hours before you announce your budget. John Engler and I worked very hard to make sure that we were here right now, just before you put the final print on. (Laughter.)


GOVERNOR GLENDENING: On a serious note, we do appreciate the opportunity to discuss some of these issues. And the education issue, I think, shows where a good discussion can go and what it can do. I appreciate the fact, as I know my colleagues do, just last month you invited 17 of us to the White House for a discussion on this issue.

Early in the stage, we had a discussion, I think, that was both cordial and based on mutual concerns for education. It was also candid and addressed those areas of agreement that we have, and some policy differences. I'm sure you recall there was some concern about Title I, whether the children who were in most need would be protected, and working together we have, in fact, been able to reach I believe some agreement on this, so that Title I will be protected. We appreciate that type of dialogue which shows the progress we can make.

You understand obviously, as we talked about just a few moments ago prior to this meeting, that there are still some very substantial disagreements with most of the Democrats being opposed to vouchers. But in the big picture of the program, this is just one issue.

I am very pleased, and the governors have all been doing this I think, across party boundaries, as you know, in terms of your work with us in the past. But the emphasis on education with regard to setting standards, having people tested, having children tested and then holding people accountable for that, which is exactly what we are doing, as well. I am pleased that the NGA policy statement that is being announced will, indeed, cover just about all of these issues.

There is one other issue on education that you will be hearing from several of our colleagues, a strong feeling again across party boundaries that federal funding for children with special needs, special education must be funded at a higher level. It's just killing many of our education budgets.

I will also tell you that we have been working on the Medicaid approach and some of our colleagues will be talking about this this morning. The most important thrust really is to make sure that we continue to provide Medicaid protection to those most in need, but to give the states the flexibility. And if you asked your colleagues here, I think they will say the single most alarming issue in most of our budgets is the growth in the Medicaid cost.

There is also a lot of discussion going on about your budget and we appreciate the insight that you've been able to, through your staff, give to us on several of these issues. I will tell you that we all understand the importance for tax relief. Everyone here, I believe, supports some tax reduction. We are in favor of a tax reduction. States have, of course, done this in the past. In Maryland, we reduced or eliminated 28 taxes, returning $2.6 billion to the taxpayers. I know John Engler, 30 tax reductions or eliminations, as well, and just as you did in Texas.

I would emphasize, however, that some of us are very concerned that the tax cut that's being proposed is too large and will not permit funding for some key issues, such as education and prescription drug coverage. But we do look forward, in the spirit of cooperation and working with you on the details of this, as well.

Let me just say in conclusion, we appreciate the opportunity to sit down early in these discussions. We look forward to working with you. We think this could be a successful partnership. Our basic priorities are about the same. It's just about how to get there, and at the same time, to make sure that the country moves ahead. We wish you and Vice President Chaney Godspeed and our support to try to make this work.


Governor Engler.

GOVERNOR ENGLER: Well, thank you very much. Mr. President, I'm delighted to be here today, and the governors are very excited about your administration. We want to begin by also saying thank you to you and Mrs. Bush. What a tremendous evening that was. We also want to thank you for your cooperation -- the administration -- throughout this annual Washington meeting. Everyone's been very much available and the dialogue has been excellent and the relationships are getting built.

I also want to thank you just for the Cabinet itself, a very diverse and talented group that -- you have made reference to the former governors, but as we go through, the experience that's represented in your Cabinet and the sort of state-friendly attitude, it appears that may have been one of the key criteria in the selection process. And I applaud that. These are men and women that we're eager to work with.

And I also want to thank you for the tone that you've set. The tone in this town, the tone in the country, and I think it stems from that goal that you talked so much about, leaving no child behind. But clearly that's everybody's challenge, regardless of our party or even those -- we've got a couple of independent governors here today -- everyone has an interest in dealing with that top priority that you've outlined, education. And we are grateful for the way that you've reached out to all of us, to involve us in that discussion.

I'm delighted with the comments this morning, and I want to applaud the reference to the permanent things the founding fathers, and the documents of federalism, that go back to the idea of America, and the announcement this morning of an interagency working group on federalism is something that we'll get very excited about. And I can pledge that we're ready to roll up our sleeves and work with that working group to make that new executive order "Reagan plus," in terms of how it recognizes the role of the states in this very creative system of government that we have.

I also applaud the priorities in addition to education, that all are looking at ways we can return power and authority back to state and local government. That is, I think, the urgent challenge for government at the beginning of the 21st century. Power and authority back closer to people, where decisions are made by people who can be held accountable by those who are living with the effects of those decisions. And in looking at Washington and recognizing a limited role and a partnership role, I think we have amazing potential for your administration and for benefits to the American public.

I would just make one note on the economy. It isn't something that has been in the news a lot in recent years, but clearly we saw it at the end of last year, the beginnings of some concern. And some of the industrial heartland looks at some challenges. And we're going to be seeing Chairman Greenspan after we leave here today, Mr. President, and if we can get him to keep bringing those interest rates down just a little bit more and if your plan to get the tax rates down, this blip in the economy is going to be short-lived and I think the economy will be rolling again.

So many of us have the perspective on the tax cut, big, fast, across-the-board and right now. I'll say that and -- (laughter and applause) -- and the rest of the agenda will come out today, I'm sure, as we have this discussion. But we do thank you for this opportunity and thank you for the earlier breakout sessions with the members of the Cabinet. I think those went very well.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, thanks.

END 11:13 A.M. EST

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