Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday that President Barack Obama’s failure to lead has brought about the federal government shutdown.
"There’s a lack of leadership in Washington, D.C., and I place blame at the president’s feet for the lack of leadership," Herbert said Thursday during his monthly news conference at KUED.
The GOP governor said that, as a president in his second term, Obama should be able to bring together Republicans and Democrats, lock the doors and resolve issues with Obamacare.
"Everyone admits it’s flawed. Even those who support it admit it’s flawed," Herbert said. "I would call on the president to get them in the same room and say, ‘We won’t leave, we’ll bring in food, we’ll have sandwiches and we will stay here until we find some kind of compromise going forward.’ "
Instead, the governor said the Democratic president has not even been willing to talk to Republicans for the months leading up to the shutdown and Herbert suggested that is because the president is trying to exploit the shutdown for political gain.
Obama met with congressional leaders for several hours Wednesday, but it ended with House Speaker John Boehner saying the president "refuses to negotiate," and Obama saying Thursday that the Ohio Republican is the only thing standing in the way of reopening the federal government.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said people can have ideological objections to the Affordable Care Act, but it was passed by Congress, signed by the president and upheld by the courts, and now as a mayor he is eager to see his citizens — one in four of whom lack health care — get insurance coverage.
"Shutting down government is not the answer to solving the problems or our disagreements. I view it as childish, and there’s a group that I see trying to hold government hostage to try to get their way and I don’t think that serves our people," Becker said. "It harms our residents and businesses when the federal government shuts down over a disagreement and I think it’s time for Congress to grow up and move forward and really try to work through issues."
Herbert said there are 40,000 federal employees in Utah, some 10,000 of whom are facing the possibility of furloughs. National Parks are closed, putting $1 billion of tourism dollars in jeopardy. And 66,000 women and children may lose their nutritional assistance, although a deal was struck with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get an additional $2.5 million to extend the existing benefits.
For his part, Herbert said he would like to see members of Congress from both parties find some agreement to address the problems in the health care legislation.
"Compromise is not a dirty word," Herbert said. "I don’t know why Republicans and Democrats can’t understand the need in a country this divided on this Affordable Care Act to come together and find some compromise."
The governor was asked repeatedly if he supported the GOP strategy of shutting down government to stop the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but would not answer, only saying that the health-care law is connected to the overall federal budget.
Herbert said again that Obamacare has divided the country unlike anything he has seen since the Vietnam War, and the fact that Obama won the election "does not mean the country has come together."
"There’s certainly disagreement on what is the right strategy from the Republican standpoint, but certainly this is being played by the Democracatic side also as a political opportunity for them," Herbert said. "The fact that they again are fencing off the World War II memorial to make it look as perjorative and as negative and in-your-face as possible, this shutdown, is certainly an area of politics on the Democrat side. Both sides are to blame."
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis agreed that both parties shoulder some responsibility for the shutdown, calling it a "complete collapse of leadership on every side, and partisan namecalling doesn’t help."
"But for the governor to start talking about the president and a lack of leadership, he needs to look in the mirror," Dabakis said.
He said the governor is "dithering" over whether he will agree to expand Medicaid to cover about 133,000 low-income Utahns who make too much to qualify for the program now. The expansion would be paid for by the federal government initially, with the state picking up more of the bill over time until states pay 10 percent of the cost.
"You look at the complete and absolute lack of leadership on expanding Medicaid and you begin to understand the depth of the governor’s lack of leadership," said Dabakis, who is also a state senator. "We still don’t have a decision after more than a year. It’s probably his most important decision as governor and he’s completely abdicated."
Herbert said he is being cautious when it comes to Medicaid expansion because it will cost Utahns $3.2 billion in state and federal taxes over the next decade.
"We’ve tried to be and are being very methodical, because what we decide in Utah is going to be in place probably for generations to come," he said. "So we’re going to be very careful we get it right on behalf of the taxpayers."
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