WASHINGTON -- The Republican governor of Oklahoma blames both parties for the partisan gridlock causing the country to speed toward sequestration, the massive cuts to defense and domestic spending set to take effect next week.
Gov. Mary Fallin (R), the vice chairwoman of the National Governors Association, told reporters during an NGA lunch Friday that Republicans and Democrats in Washington need to work together to avoid the sequester, while at the same time providing states with more flexibility to deal with the impending cuts. Governors from both parties are expected to discuss sequestration during the NGA Winter Meeting, which will formally kick off here Saturday morning.
"Everybody," Fallin said when asked which party is responsible for the impasse. "I think it's the Senate, the House, the president and both political parties. It is important that everyone comes together."
Fallin, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell (D) and other governors have been lobbying President Barack Obama and Congress to come to an agreement to stave off sequestration, which will begin March 1 if no action is taken. Markell, the NGA chairman, outlined the types of cuts governors would need to make if funding is slashed on the federal level. He said that special education, Head Start programs, nutrition initiatives, workforce development and heating oil for the poor would all be at risk.
Both Markell and Fallin predicted that jobs would be lost in both the public and private sectors if sequestration were to take effect, and said that businesses have been hesitant to invest at the state level due to the economic "uncertainty" created by the impending cuts. Markell said one area of concern is infrastructure planning, noting that without a clear picture of federal transportation funds, he and other governors are unable to plan out projects that would create jobs.
While Democratic governors have been placing the blame on congressional Republicans, with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, saying at an event Friday morning that the GOP is holding the nation's economic recovery "hostage," Fallin said it was important for both parties to share the blame.
Both Markell and Fallin said one thing governors are asking for is the flexibility to handle the impact of federal spending cuts in their own way, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution.
"Allow us to decide to build roads and bridges instead of bike paths," Fallin said.
Beyond the sequester, Markell said that governors will likely focus on health care during their private sessions this weekend. He said those discussions are likely to focus on the delivery of health care reform and sharing best practices, rather than on the acceptance of federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid. Most NGA discussions largely steer clear of politically charged topics and focus on management issues.
But above all, Fallin said the governors will use the weekend to push for the federal government to address states' issues and avert sequestration.
"This is really, really serious for our nation," she said. "It is time for Congress and the administration to sit down and work together. I am worried that they will not. Then we as governors have to deal with that."