WASHINGTON — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday wrapped up two days of meetings in Washington, determined and optimistic that he'll get $7 billion from the federal government to help balance California's faltering budget.
"We're going to fight, and we are going to work together to get this money," the Republican governor told reporters after meeting with Democrats and Republicans from the California congressional delegation.
Earlier, the governor met privately with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who held open the possibility of helping her state, which she noted will receive nearly $85 billion under the stimulus approved last year.
"I think it was a good meeting and will lead to some productive actions and some good results," Pelosi said.
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But she hinted that any aid would not just go to a single state.
"This isn't just about California," she said. "It's about the relationship between states and the federal government and how that relationship can be enhanced."
At the meeting, Pelosi emphasized the need for Congress to pass a jobs package, similar to the one passed by the House of Representatives in December, which would send at least $6.4 billion more to California, according to Drew Hammill, Pelosi's spokesman.
"The speaker also encouraged the governor to urge his fellow Republicans to support the House jobs bill," Hammill said.
Democrat Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, who accompanied the Republican governor along with Assembly Speaker Karen Bass of Los Angeles, said the group had been "warmly received, and heard."
"The message is very simple," he said. "California's economic recovery will hasten the nation's economic recovery. We're the largest state in the union, with 12 1/2 percent unemployment. We've made very difficult decisions in our state, including cutting over $30 billion, including raising taxes and unfortunately, because of the recession, the battering continues."
Steinberg said California officials want "to seek partnership" with the federal government, and he said they were off to a good start.
"We know we're going to have to come back often and we intend to do just that," Steinberg said.
Schwarzenegger contends that Californians are getting severely shortchanged from Washington, receiving only 78 cents for every dollar taxpayers send to the federal government. And he said the issue has nothing to do with politics.
"Everyone was interested in working together. ... We showed that it is not at all a partisan issue," Schwarzenegger said. "It is a California issue, which is that we ask the federal government for getting us the money we deserve. We're not looking for a handout."
Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California said that members of Congress plan to work with state officials more closely in the future.
"I think we had a good day today," she said. "I was inspired by the willingness of all the members to work together. .... We will be meeting with greater frequency. We are happy that the governor is here, and we expect to see him more often."
While the governor's plan may have support in the delegation, it's hardly unanimous. And it's sure to face an uphill battle from a skeptical Congress that has plenty of money troubles of its own.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove said California's budget and spending problems were "self-inflicted" and that Congress should not step in to help. And he said it would be wrong for Congress to raise taxes, as Schwarzenegger did.
"Let's not repeat Governor Schwarzenegger's folly nationally," said McClintock.
Just last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said the chances of California receiving anything near what Schwarzenegger wants were "almost nonexistent."
California sought special help last year, with no luck, when it asked the federal government to guarantee emergency loans for the state.
After meeting with the California delegation, Schwarzenegger said that many members told him it would be very difficult to help the state.
But the governor was undeterred.
"Well, hello," said Schwarzenegger. "What isn't? I mean, this is what we do."