With states in dire budget straits, McConnell and Pelosi differ over solutions

07/26/2010 01:06 PM

LOUISVILLE — With many state governments facing massive deficits the past two years, their leaders have looked to the federal government for help in paying for programs such as Medicaid and unemployment insurance.

Kentucky is no exception. And its need is urgent.

The state is banking on the federal government approving extra Medicaid payments between January and June 2011, which would cover $238 million to help with health care costs for nearly 800,000 poor and disabled Kentuckians enrolled in the Medicaid program. Without that federal help, the money will have to come from elsewhere, furthering crippling the state’s budget woes.

Although Kentucky has been joined by at least 30 other states who are hoping for that extension of help, Congress has hesitated to spend the $24 billion for the Medicaid extension as Democrats and Republicans have been embroiled this summer in a philosophical debate. The issue is whether Congress can find a way to balance out the cost of the additional spending to help the states. And if so, how?

Speaking to hundreds of their state legislators from across the country at the National Conference of State Legislatures in downtown Louisville, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, explained their parties’ approaches to many of the problems state legislatures still face.

Pelosi urged the state legislators to help lobby Republicans in the Senate on passing a bill aimed at creating jobs through public works programs and to continue federal help with Medicaid that was originally part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also nicknamed the stimulus bill, Congress passed in 2009.

McConnell said he understood that it’s hard for states to take “free money,” but that federal influence over programs handled at the state level has gone too far and is creating the very problems the state’s are facing.

—Reporting and video produced by Kenny Colston


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