Schwarzenegger is headed to capital looking for a hand

Celebrity status could open doors to leaders of House, Senate

October 27, 2003|By Richard Simon | Richard Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - When Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger visits the U.S. Capitol this week, he can't expect the cash-strapped federal government to bail California out of its budget mess.

But there are steps the Bush administration and Congress could take.

The federal government could grant the state more flexibility in how it spends federal funds to provide health care to the poor. It could offer states more federal aid for the cost of jailing illegal immigrants. And it could change funding formulas for federal programs, such as one that gives California less per capita for homeland security than Wyoming.

These are expected to be among the ideas presented to Schwarzenegger by California's delegation at their meeting Wednesday. Schwarzenegger also plans to meet with House and Senate GOP leaders - a possible sign of the new influence the state could gain in Washington.

Rep. Christopher Cox, a California Republican, said Schwarzenegger, by virtue of his celebrity status, might be able to muscle his way into congressional leadership offices that other governors can't.

"He'll have no trouble getting an audience with members from other states," Cox said.

Schwarzenegger, a Republican who replaced Democratic Gov. Gray Davis in the Oct. 7 recall vote and will take office next month, has said he would look to President Bush and Congress to help California out of its budget woes. "I will be known in Washington not as the Terminator but as the Collectinator," the former actor said.

Although Bush and his fellow Republicans could benefit from a close relationship with Schwarzenegger - perhaps helping the GOP become more competitive in California's presidential races - no one is expecting the president to write the new governor a big check.

Asked whether Schwarzenegger could expect much help from Washington, Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said, "I wouldn't count on it."

But Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist, said, "There may be more waiting for Schwarzenegger and California than most believe right now."

Sabato said that keeping the nation's most populous state economically healthy is essential if the U.S. economy is to grow vigorously before next year's presidential election.

Schwarzenegger has moved to establish friendlier ties to Washington by tapping California Republican Rep. David Dreier as his transition director. Dreier, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee, arranged Wednesday's meeting with lawmakers.

Schwarzenegger's election comes as the 53-member California House delegation, the biggest in Congress, has increased its influence. California Republicans lead five House committees, more than any other state, and Rep. Jerry Lewis is in the running to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee in 2005. The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is from San Francisco.

California will need all its political muscle to change federal funding formulas over the objections of other lawmakers who believe California receives enough. Schwarzenegger has complained that for each dollar paid by Californians in taxes, only 77 cents come back to the state.

California officials hope to recruit Schwarzenegger in their effort to change the formula for distributing about $2 billion in homeland security grants to states.

Under the current formula, every state, regardless of size, gets a large chunk of the money; the remainder is distributed based on population. California officials say the funding should be based on factors such as what regions face the greatest threats and have critical infrastructure.

Bush, a former Texas governor, has expressed support for giving states more authority to retool federal programs to their needs.

Marcia Howard, director of Federal Funds Information for States, a Washington-based organization that analyzes federal issues for states, predicted that Schwarzenegger would get "a lot of willingness for flexibility."

"There is some room for help," added Stephen Zuckerman, a health economist at the Urban Institute, "and certainly this administration does seem to be willing to approve waivers under the Medicaid rules to give states additional flexibility to run their programs."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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