Baker: Obama admin “pretty straight up with us”

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MAY 14, 2015…..Politics may be pervasive in the nation’s capital, but Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday he feels like Democrats in Washington, so far, are giving him a fair shake.

Back home in Massachusetts on Thursday after making the rounds a day earlier in D.C., Baker brushed aside suggestions from members of his own party that President Barack Obama was playing politics with federal disaster aid after the Federal Emergency Management Agency this week denied the governor’s appeal for greater help with winter snow removal costs.

Baker also said Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell spent an hour listening to his administration make the case to delay changes in the state’s small business health insurance market until the state can formally file for a waiver from portions of the Affordable Care Act.

Massachusetts has twice been denied ACA waivers, including similar requests from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick.

“I’m not going to prejudge here what the outcome will be, but I feel we got a very fair hearing from her,” Baker said of his meeting with Burwell. He said the two did not discuss the Justice Department’s subpoena of Massachusetts Health Connector records connected to the failed rollout of a new health insurance exchange website in 2013.

While Massachusetts for six years may have benefited from Patrick’s friendship with Obama, Baker said he has no reason to think the state is being treated differently by the White House now that a Republican sits in the corner office.

“I think the administration has been very forthcoming with us around how they made their decisions and why they’ve made the decisions that they’ve made,” Baker said. “And the local FEMA team has been terrific in helping us document the damage that was done and the costs that were incurred and I feel at this point like we’re being treated the same way everyone else would be treated in similar circumstances.”

Despite the record-setting onslaught of snow this winter, Obama issued a disaster declaration for Massachusetts covering only the first two-day blizzard in late January that started the flurry. FEMA then sent a letter to Baker on Tuesday denying his appeal for impacted communities to be allowed to apply for reimbursement for snow-related costs incurred over a 72-hour period, up from the 48 hours previously approved by agency.

Baker said he was “disappointed,” but suggested that FEMA and the Obama administration has been “pretty straight up with us” through the process.

Sen. Robert Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, seemed a little more skeptical when he told the Boston Herald, “Having federal agencies politicized seems to be a pattern with this administration.”

Baker said he’s “not exactly sure” why Patrick, who left office in January, had success bringing nearly equal amounts of federal disaster aid back to Massachusetts for storms that didn’t approach the severity of the past winter. He guessed that Patrick sought relief for single severe weather events that were “much harder to predict,” and therefore looked upon more favorably than the month-long accumulation of snow.

“I would speculate snow is the kind of thing that happens every year. Sometimes you get a lot, sometimes you don’t,” Baker said.

Baker also met with the state’s all Democrat Congressional delegation while in Washington and sat with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez to get their sense of what might happen as Congress approaches a summer deadline to reauthorize federal transportation funding for states.

Baker said he left feeling relatively confident that at least a small transportation reauthorization bill would be approved before the federal government approached the “cliff” when funding to the states would be cut off.

In between official meetings, Baker confirmed that he “talked to some local political people,” but did not elaborate. A spokesman for the MassGOP said the party did not set up any meetings for the governor while he was in Washington, and his State House press office declined to provide more details beyond Baker’s public schedule.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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