The Washington Post

Biden calls on nation’s governors to help end era of poisonous politics

“The vast majority of you respect one another,” the vice president told attendees of the National Governors Association convention Friday. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Vice President Biden showered praise on the nation’s governors here Friday as he lamented the breakdown of bipartisanship in Washington, saying state leaders can help to end an era of poisonous politics that is hurting the country.

Biden pointed to the breakdown in Washington, saying partisan conflict has had a corrosive effect on the country. “You folks, the Democratic and Republican governors, are the best hope we have of bringing back an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable,” he said at the summer meeting of the National Governors Association.

Biden said there have always been significant ideological differences between Republicans and Democrats and battles over big issues. But he said governors have demonstrated their ability to work with one another to try to find solutions to problems that confront their states without letting those differences become personal.

“The vast majority of you respect one another,” he said. “The vast majority of you...treat each other with respect. You’re not dismissive of the other guy’s or woman’s ideas. You cooperate in ways that I find badly, badly needed. ... We’re only one country and we always do best when we act like that.”

Biden said that most Americans want their elected representatives to work together but the conduct of politics has divided the population. “I think you’ve got to lead us out of this mess we’re in,” he said.

Biden made his comments about the current state of politics at the beginning of a speech about infrastructure and workforce training. He lauded the governors as he sought support for more federal spending on infrastructure projects and on providing the skills that workers will need to prosper in the economy of the future.

Biden said the partisan breakdown in Washington has prevented agreement to do more in these areas, particularly on infrastructure spending. “These two issues are not partisan issues,” he said. “As soon as we reestablish that consensus, the faster we are going to grow.”

Singling out many of the governors in the room, Biden ticked off projects underway to modernize ports, rail lines and roads and innovative programs designed offer skills training to both students and older workers alike.

Many states have taken the initiative, particularly on workforce issues, as they see the mismatch between the current skill levels of workers and those that will be required in the future. Biden will issue a report later this month, at the direction of President Obama, designed to address the role of the federal government in doing more to spur such efforts.

Biden said the United States remains the economic envy of the world, despite the deep recession and slow recovery during the past six years. He warned that much more is needed for the country to maintain its economic advantages.

As the administration’s point person for implementing the American Recovery Act — the economic stimulus program enacted during Obama’s first year in office — Biden has spent considerable time working directly with governors and put those relationships on display on Friday.

One issue governors had talked about before Biden’s arrival here was the need to replenish the Highway Trust Fund later this summer. Biden noted that there appears to be a solution on the horizon, but only a short-term fix that would require Congress to revisit the issue next year. The governors prefer something permanent but so far no consensus has emerged.

Biden’s speech marked a rare appearance by either a vice president or president at a summer meeting of the National Governors Association. The governors meet annually with the president when they are in Washington for their winter meeting, but over the past two decades presidents and vice presidents have only rarely traveled to speak to the governors.

Dan Balz is Chief Correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s National Editor, Political Editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent.

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