Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm guessing that Schweitzer didn't just randomly pull "$98 million for unemployment" out of his head. Yesterday, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal became the first governor to announced he is turning down stimulus money, rejecting $98 million to expand unemployment payments because, he said, accepting the money would force the state to raise taxes in the future.
Schweitzer had an interesting argument, one that's as relevant to the management of the stimulus as it is to the politics of the stimulus. He made the case that the federal recovery package really doesn't ask state governments to do anything they're not already doing:We're getting wrapped around the axle on these new stimulus dollars as if the federal government never sent any money to states before. Who builds the highways? They send the money, we do. They send the money, we fix them. Who shares in Medicaid? This is not something new. People act as though these dollars are a brand new source of dollars that are going out to states. They've added about 20%, maybe 25% this year, but during the time that these governors -- must of whom will be governors during an 8-year period -- this represents around 5, 6% of the total dollars that come from the federal government.
But, Schweitzer's rebuke of Jindal is clearly about politics. The political profile of governors is on the rise as they take a central role in the stimulus debate and as the Republican Party turns to governors as its rising stars for 2012 and beyond.
Schweitzer is the head of the Democratic Governors Association, which is aggressively defending the stimulus. Jindal is confirming his conservative bonafides by turning down the money. He's also setting up a contrast with President Obama days before he's set to deliver the Republican response to Obama's first address to Congress.
Both governors appear to have national aspirations for the future, though Jindal has indicated he's not running in 2012 and Schweitzer presumably won't either, since Obama will be the Democratic candidate. So, you could consider this the first broadside of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Schweitzer's comments came at an opening press conference at the National Governors Association meeting. Two other governors on the stage, Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Jim Douglas of Vermont, tried to play down the controversy over unemployment benefits.
But, even as the governors tried to suggest that the divisions on the stimulus were overstated, the press conference gave the opposite appearance. Of the ten governors who appeared on stage, Douglas, an active stimulus supporter, was the only Republican.
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