Shumlin meets Obama during Washington visit

By Nicole Gaudiano
Burlington Free Press
Friday, December 3, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Vermont Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin said health care and education dominated his conversations during a "productive and exciting" two-day trip to Washington.

Thursday, he was one of four Democrats among 23 newly elected governors to meet President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He met with administration officials and the Vermont congressional delegation, as well.

"I come away optimistic that the changes that we need to make to create jobs for Vermonters and lift the middle class will be met with enthusiasm by the Obama administration," Shumlin said after his visit.

Shumlin said he was encouraged about the prospects of getting a federal waiver to implement a single-payer health care system in Vermont.

He said Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made it clear that they see states as laboratories for change. He met twice with Sebelius, who said she is open to working with states as long as governors aren't trying to reduce health-care standards.

He didn't use the controversial term "single-payer" with Obama, but he did with Sebelius and the White House council on health care.

The first step, however, is to work on designing a system that contains costs, he said.

Shumlin said he didn't get much one-on-one time with Obama but mentioned his goals for health care and early childhood development to him during lunch.

During a brief meeting with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Shumlin said, he urged Duncan to seek state matching funds as he presses Congress for $300 million for early childhood education grants to states. Vermont could have a disproportionate advantage if the states are required to match the funding, he said.

"A lot of these governors got swept in on the tea party movement, and I don't think you'll see their states committing to early childhood education," he said.