Governor Tom Vilsack met privately this past weekend with key backers and staff to talk about promoting himself as a national figure, groundwork for a possible run for the presidency in 2008. Vilsack and the rest of the nation’s governors are in Washington, D.C., for meetings and on Sunday night President Bush hosted a White House dinner for the governors. President Bush told the group many presidents first served as governors, and Bush said his six years as governor of Texas have been “invaluable” to him. During a telephone conference call with Iowa reporters, Vilsack downplayed the idea he is plotting a presidential run. Vilsack, instead, said he’s focused on helping democrats in other states win governorships in 2006. Vilsack says he wants to help the 12 democratic governors who are up for re-election in 2006 to win another term in office. “I think if democratic governors can expand their numbers, then more creative and innovative ideas can be forthcoming, which will help the nation,” Vilsack says. This morning (Monday), Vilsack and the other governors met again with President Bush and this afternoon, the governors are meeting with Congressional leaders to talk about Medicaid, the government program that provides health care coverage to poor and disabled Americans. Since 2000, the number of Americans on Medicaid has grown by 40 percent. President Bush, though, told the governors he was not going to back down from ending an accounting practice that has allowed states to collect more federal support for Medicaid because some states used the maneuver, and spent money on other programs. Vilsack says it may be time to have Medicaid recipients who can afford it pay a bigger fee when they visit the doctor or get prescriptions filled. “We will continue to work with the Administration to try to get to a consensus,” Vilsack says. “We’re not there yet, but we’re working hard on it.” The “sliding fee” would be based on a Medicaid recipient’s income, so the very poor wouldn’t pay a fee while those who have some income would. “When you talk to many people, they actually are interested in trying to contribute something to their health care. They like to have the dignity of knowing they are contributing something,” Vilsack says. While he was at the White House, Vilsack also pigeon-holed former Nebraska Governor Mike Johanns who is now the Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack asked Johanns to focus more federal dollars on ensuring the safety of the nation’s food supply, as acts of “agro-terrorism” could inflict serious damage on the livestock and crop industries. The two also talked about ethanol, and Johanns told Vilsack the Bush Administration is still pushing to ensure ethanol gets preferential treatment in tax policy. “It was reassuring that renewable fuels are still part of the Department of Agriculture agenda,” Vilsack says. Tomorrow, the governors meet with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah.
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