MILWAUKEE -- The nation's governors will gather here beginning Friday morning for a weekend of public and private gatherings. The summer meeting includes several open forums and news conferences. But the real intrigue at these events tends to happen on the sidelines, in private meetings and one-on-one media interviews with governors.
So what are the issues to keep an eye on this weekend? Here are the five biggest ones:
1. Obamacare. The president's signature health-care law has become the focus of Washington in recent weeks, following word from the Obama administration that the employer mandate will be delayed until 2015. In the states, meanwhile, a debate over Obamacare has been raging for some time. Republican governors have been faced with dilemmas over whether to accept Medicaid expansion. And two leading GOP governors have been trumpeting a call for a repeal of Obamacare. Look for governors from both parties to try to seize the high ground this weekend in a debate that could be a central issue in the 2014 campaign. The opening NGA session will touch on health care, with Jeffrey Brenner, the founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, scheduled to appear.
2. The hawk vs. libertarian debate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) spoke in no uncertain terms last week in Aspen, Colo. about the dangers of the libertarian view of foreign policy that is growing in power in today's GOP. Just like that, Christie triggered a high-profile spat with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that has yet to fully be settled. Expect other Republican governors to be asked about where they fall in the divide throughout the weekend.
3. Speaking of Christie... Paul has tried to offer an olive branch to Christie in the hopes of putting the public war of words in the past. But Christie doesn't seem all that receptive. The NGA meeting will be the latest opportunity for reporters to question Christie about his spat with Paul. Will he change his tune and try to make up and play nice? Or will he refuse to budge from his thanks-but-no-thanks position?
4. The potential 2016ers. A handful of potential 2016 presidential candidates will be at the meeting, including Christie, Gov. Scott Walker (R),
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. Pols with an eye on higher office are constantly minding their national profile, and the gathering here is the latest opportunity for the potential White House contenders to leave their mark on the national landscape.
5. Abortion. The nation's governors have been central figures in the fight over abortion laws that has erupted across the national landscape. Walker's recent decision to quietly sign a bill to tighten abortion restrictions brought him national attention from opponents and advocates. And Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry's high-profile fight on abortion against state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) sharpened the intensity and the focus on the national debate (Perry will not be at the NGA meeting). Look for Democratic governors to argue that Republicans are focusing on social issues at the expense of taking their eye off the ball when it comes to the economy.