Grappling With Budget Deficits, Nation's Governors Sit Down With President Obama

VIDEO: The Roundtable on the State of the Country

With fierce budget battles looming back in their home states, a bipartisan group of governors sat down with President Obama today at the White House, where the focus was on spending cuts, health care, economic growth and job creation.

Unlike lawmakers in Washington who continue to argue over how to approach the skyrocketing national deficit, Democratic and Republican governors are sounding strikingly similar when it comes to the need for dramatic budget cuts to tackle massive deficits yet maintain a commitment not to raise taxes.

Twenty-nine new governors were elected last fall and many now face tough decisions on how to balance their budgets while retaining public services. All told, states face a combined $125 billion deficit, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Today at the White House, President Obama acknowledged the obvious dilemma the state executives have back home.

"Those of you who are in this room obviously are on the front lines of this budget debate," he said. "You face some very tough choices at this point on everything from schools to prisons to pensions."

Obama said he understands firsthand the difficult position the governors are in, likening it to his own decision to freeze the salaries of federal employees for two years.

"It wasn't something that I wanted to do, but I did it because of the very tough fiscal situation that we're in," the president said. "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."

Public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio have been loudly protesting decisions by Republican governors there to support legislation to end collective bargaining agreements.

Obama tepidly waded back into that fight, saying today that public employees should not be "denigrated or vilified" during contentious budget battles.

Obama delivered opening remarks to the governors but once the cameras were turned off and the press ushered out the room, he was to take questions. The session offered Republican governors a chance to get in a few punches on the president's own turf, especially on the health care bill that mnay of the governors are fighting in court.

Almost all the states are required by law to balance their budgets; the federal government is not required to. As a result governors are taking their red pens and slashing their budgets.

"The four big things that [governors] spend their money on is education, health care, transportation and public safety. We're seeing pretty big cuts in all of those," said Nicholas Johnson, director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Those cuts are not being well received by Americans. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that while Americans are not calling for increased government spending, they have strong opinions about cutting those services to bring down deficits.

Seventy-nine percent said they would not support cuts in funding for K-12 education, 76 percent are opposed to cuts to health care services, and 66 percent said no to cuts to public colleges and universities.

California is facing a $25 billion budget deficit and newly-elected Gov. Jerry Brown has his critics howling in protest over his call for large cuts in Medicaid and higher education.

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