- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack shocked fellow governors yesterday when he attacked President Bush during a bipartisan press conference at the National Governors Association annual meeting.

The governors of both parties had just come from a White House meeting at which they were addressed by Mr. Bush and several of the president’s Cabinet secretaries.

Mr. Vilsack, chairman of the Democratic Governors’ Conference, complained that at the White House meeting the president had limited the number of questions he took from the governors to avoid negative comments from them.

“It would have been helpful for him to have heard the discussions about ‘No Child Left Behind’ [Mr. Bush’s education reform initiative] because there may be a disconnect between what he thinks and what we know,” Mr. Vilsack said.

In NGA sessions over the weekend and yesterday, Democratic governors had complained that the new requirement for state testing of students under Mr. Bush’s education bill amounted to an unfunded mandate from the federal government.

Mr. Vilsack also faulted Mr. Bush for underplaying employment declines during his administration.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, chastised Mr. Vilsack afterward for violating the nonpartisan, cooperative atmosphere that traditionally characterizes NGA meetings.

“That’s awful, what you just did,” Mr. Romney told Mr. Vilsack as the Iowa Democrat left the microphone and walked past Mr. Romney, according to another governor participating in the press conference.

Other Republican governors echoed Mr. Romney’s sentiment.

“Governor Vilsack turned our press conference into a partisan attack on the president,” Montana Gov. Judy Martz, a Republican, said in an interview afterward. “I was shocked. I think we all were shocked.”

She said Mr. Vilsack mischaracterized what the president said about Medicare, education reform and the economy.

During the four-day meeting that ends today, Democrats expressed varying degrees of disagreement with the recent Economic Report of the President, in which the chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers argued that the outsourcing of jobs to foreign countries will eventually create more jobs for Americans and a higher U.S. standard of living.

Mr. Vilsack used the economic report to begin his criticism of Mr. Bush at an NGA press conference on Saturday, when the Iowa governor waved a copy of the report and said Mr. Bush should tear it up and start over.

Mr. Romney said after yesterday’s press conference that he thought it inappropriate for any governor to use the NGA to score partisan points, even during a presidential election year. He noted that Mr. Bush made his own partisan speech last night, but delivered it to a Republican Governors Association event, instead of the nonpartisan NGA gathering.

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