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Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



Gov. Douglas and the D.C. scene

Gov. Jim Douglas spent a busy weekend on the national political stage in Washington, D.C., running the winter meeting of the National Governors Association.

As NGA chairman, he had the job of delivering the bad news about the states’ fiscal health.

“The worst probably is yet to come,“ Douglas warned at the opening session Saturday.

Sunday morning found Douglas, a Republican, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, on a talk show — CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley for a chat about political gridlock and health care.

Unlike Congress, governors know how to get things done, the pair of governors suggested.

“Ultimately something has to happen. The work has to be done. The streets have to be plowed or the budget has to be balanced,” Douglas said. He noted that regardless of political affiliation, “in the National Governors Association, we have a much more collegial relationship. We talk with each other, we learn from each other, Deval and I hosted a health care forum last spring at the request of the president.”

Back in Vermont, Douglas has been part of a few political power struggles over the years that didn’t end up all that friendly. Think back to last spring, for example, and the budget battle that ended in a gubernatorial veto and a legislative override.

Crowley also quizzed Douglas and Patrick about the kind of health care reform governors wanted.

“We would like to have a better partner in Washington because we have a shared responsibility, but meanwhile governors are going to keep moving forward to try to insure the people of our states,” Douglas replied.

“Other than to fund Medicaid, though, would you rather they stay out of the way?” Crowley pressed.

DOUGLAS: Well, I think we have to work together. But remember what the real problem is, and that’s the cost of health care that keeps rising at rates that are multiples of inflation year after year after year. And I think there has been too much...

PATRICK: Whether you have a universal program or not.

DOUGLAS: Exactly.

PATRICK: That’s happening everywhere.

DOUGLAS: That’s the point, because it doesn’t matter whether it’s a publicly funded program or private health insurance companies, if we don’t get cost under control, we are going to be broke either way. So we need to reform the way we deliver care. We need to reform the payment system to incent quality care and good outcomes and get those costs under control.

Pretty good tag team.

At the end of the show, Crowley noted Douglas would retire at the end of this term.

“Governor Douglas of Vermont, have a happy retirement, but I imagine we’ll see you.”

DOUGLAS: Oh, no, no, no. I’ll find something else to do. .... It won’t be in Washington.”

Douglas’ relationship with President Barack Obama was on display Sunday night when governors and spouses donned tuxedoes and gowns for dinner at the White House.

Before the four-course dinner — which included French onion soup, rib-eye roast of beef and shrimp scampi, and baked Alaska — Obama thanked the governors for helping to “right the ship” of state during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

“This White House wants to continue to partner with you,” Obama said.

He raised his glass — water, rather than the Virginia, California or Michigan wines being served at the dinner. “So, cheers, everybody. Dinner is served. Oh, wait, wait, wait.”

Obama noticed Douglas heading to the front of the room. “This is not the waiter, although he can read the menu. Jim Douglas has been an extraordinary partner with this White House — always constructive, always thoughtful, and we are so pleased to have him here tonight.”

“Mr. President, I thought you might explain that I’m not the entertainment, either.”

Douglas offered his own toast — also with water.

— Nancy Remsen

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That's just great... Only back home we know the truth - Jim Douglas has raised partisan politics to levels never before seen in VT.

Jim Douglas has always said he wants to work with the Dems - as long as the Dems agree with his position.

Sound familiar - just like the DC GOP.
The only way Douglas ends up in Washington is if he jumps on the Palin express, and I don't see him as a roadie for her sideshow. He should be chief of protocol or something like that. He's got a little Goldie Hawn in him. You must see it.
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