Douglas meets with Obama in support of stimulus package

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas is lending his support to a massive federal economic stimulus package that’s being debated in Washington.

In his capacity as vice chairman of the National Governor’s Association, Douglas had a private meeting this morning with President Obama at the White House.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Douglas, as a high ranking GOP governor, is in Washington to help persuade some Republican senators to back the stimulus bill. Last week, the U.S. House gave its support to the nearly $1 trillion package but no Republicans voted for it.

After meeting with the President, Douglas says he’s pleased that Mr. Obama is providing strong leadership on this issue:

(Douglas) "The President understands what governors are facing the fiscal realities of dealing with the state budget at a time when the economy is soft and revenues are not performing well…he’s willing to reach across the aisle to engage Republicans and find some bipartisan consensus and provide more flexibility to the states."

According to recent studies, Vermont will receive an additional $500 million from the bill, over a two year period, to supplement a number of programs including Medicaid, Education and Transportation.

Democratic leaders at the Statehouse argue that the new federal money will make it possible for Vermont to avoid some of the budget cuts that Douglas has proposed for next year.

Douglas says that approach is irresponsible because it will lead to unsustainable spending levels in the future. The governor says he faces the challenge of accepting the federal money without boosting overall spending on these programs:

(Douglas) "We have to because the level of spending is extraordinary we couldn’t possibly sustain it and we have to make sure we fashion our state program budgets in a way that doesn’t lead Vermonters to believe that we have an unlimited amount of money in the years beyond fiscal 2010."

Middlebury College political science professor emeritus Eric Davis says he thinks Douglas’s support for the extra federal money is undercutting the governor’s call for budget cuts in Vermont:

(Davis) "I think it does because especially because the programs that are going to be assisted by the stimulus money Medicaid State Children’s Health Insurance programs Special Education these are some of the same programs where Douglas argues that the level of spending on those issues in Vermont is unsustainable so there is a bit of an inconsistency there."

The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the stimulus plan by the end of the week. Congressional Democratic leaders hope to have a bill on the President’s desk by the middle of the month.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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