Anxious to ease deepening political tensions with the states, President Barack Obama on Monday told governors he wants to speed up their ability to enforce his signature health care law on their own terms. But his concession goes only so far: He warned he won't allow states to weaken the law.
He also told them not to vilify their own states' public workers while struggling with spending cuts.
Hosting governors of both parties on his own turf, Obama offered them what they often request: more flexibility as they cope with painful budget dilemmas. Declaring that he would "go to bat for whatever works," Obama supported letting states propose their own health care plans by 2014 - three years faster than the current law allows.
Yet this would be no change to the fundamental requirements of a federal law that has divided the nation and prompted about half the states to try to overturn it through lawsuits. To gain new powers, states would first have to convince Washington that their plans would cover as many people, provide equally affordable and comprehensive care and not add to the federal deficit.
More broadly, Obama sought to send a message - both cooperative and pointed - as leaders at all levels of government grapple with huge economic pressures. The yearly gathering of the president and the state chief executives came as budget disputes are roiling, most notably in Wisconsin, where dramatic protests have raged for days.