"Make yourself feel at home," President Obama said as he began his speech to the National Governor's Association on Monday, "but for those of you interested in the next election, I don't mean that literally."
After a laugh (from the president and governors alike), Obama launched into his speech, discussing states' flexibility in the controversial health care act; federal spending on infrastructure, research and innovation; the state and federal budget crises; and, of course, the public work force. In the wake of the budget protests in Wisconsin and with an audience of state leaders, the President gave a veiled jab at the state's ongoing battle.
Obama spoke to the delegation of Governors at the White House. Vice President Biden, Dr. Jill Biden and the First Lady also spoke at the gathering on Monday.
I also know that many of you are making decisions regarding your public work forces and I know how difficult that can be. I recently froze the salaries of federal employees for two years. It wasn't something that I wanted to do, but I did because of the very tough fiscal situation that we're in. So I believe that everybody should be prepared to give up something in order to solve our budget challenges, and I think most public servants agree with that. Democrats and Republicans agree with that. In fact, many public employees in your respective states have already agreed to cuts.
Let me also say this: I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are denigrated, vilified, or their rights are infringed upon. We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service. These times demand it.
As we make these decisions about our budget going forward, though, I believe that everyone should be at the table and that the concept of shared sacrifice should prevail. If all the pain is worn by one group, whether it's workers or seniors or the poor, while the wealthiest among us get to keep or make more tax breaks, then we're not doing the right thing. I think that's something that Democrats and Republicans can agree upon.
In Ohio and Pennsylvania, thanks in part to federal grants, I saw universities and businesses joining together to make America a world leader in biotechnology and in clean energy. And if you have any doubt about the importance of this federal investment in research and development, I would suggest that you talk to the cutting edge businesses in your own state. They will tell you that if we want the next big breakthrough, the next big industry to be an American breakthrough, an American industry, than we can't sacrifice these investments in research and technology.
I know in some of your states, infrastructure projects have garnered controversy, and sometimes they've gotten caught up in partisan politics. This hasn't traditionally been a partisan issue. Lincoln laid the rails during the course of a civil war. Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. Both parties have always believed that America should have the best of everything. We don't have third-rate airports, third-rate bridges and third-rate highways. That's not who we are. We shouldn't start going down that path. New companies are going to seek out the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods and information, whether they're in Chicago or they're in Shanghai, and I want them to be here in the United States.
I am aware that I have not convinced everybody here to be a member of the Affordable Care Act fan club, but surely we can agree that for decades, our government, our families and our businesses watched as health care costs ate up more and more of their bottom line. There's no disputing that. It didn't happen last year, it didn't just happen in two years; it's been going on for years now.
We also know that the biggest driver of the federal debt is Medicare costs. Nothing else comes close. We could implement every cut that the House of Representatives right now has proposed and it would not make a dent in our long term budget. It wouldn't make a dent in our long term deficits because of our health care costs. We know it's one of the biggest strains in your state budgets, Medicaid, and for years, politicians of both parties talked about real reform. Everybody talked about it.
I know many of you have asked for flexibilty for your states under this law...If your state can create a plan that covers as many people as affordably and comprehensively as the Affordable Care Act does without increasing the deficit, you can implement that plan. And we'll work with you to do it.