Obama opens door for S.C. opt-out, Haley says
COLUMBIA -- Republican Gov.-elect Nikki Haley said President Barack Obama agreed Thursday to consider letting South Carolina opt out of the federal health care overhaul if the state comes up with its own solutions to meet some of the important conditions of the national legislation.
Haley was among a group of newly elected governors, most of them Republicans, who met with the Democratic president at the Blair House, the guest house across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.
Haley said she told Obama that South Carolina could not afford the health care mandate, and that it would cripple small businesses.
"I respectfully asked him to consider repealing the bill," she said, to which he clearly stated he would not. "I pushed him further and said if that's the case, because of states' rights, would you at least consider South Carolina opting out of the program?"
Obama told her he would consider letting South Carolina opt out, she said, if the state could find its own solution that included a state exchange, preventing companies from bumping people for pre-existing conditions and allowing insurance pooling.
"I think it's something we go back to South Carolina and start crunching," she said. "This is about saying we're going to fight this every step of the way and use every option possible."
Haley said she also asked the president if he would honor the federal government's commitment on developing a nuclear waste repository. When he said he would not revisit opening Nevada's Yucca Mountain, "I said, 'Then give us our money back.' "
The site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas was proposed to house more than 4,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste from South Carolina's Savannah River Site. The state and Washington have sued over Obama's attempt to kill plans for the storage site after decades of study.
"SRS has done a good job, but that was a temporary solution. It was never meant to be a permanent solution," Haley said she told him. "The federal government has reneged on its promise, and the people of South Carolina want their money back."
South Carolina's power plants and its customers have contributed more than $1 billion over nearly 30 years to a permanent repository.
She said Obama pledged that he would have Energy secretary Steven Chu call her promptly.
"I will wait for that phone call, and if I don't get it, I will be calling, but I feel he was being genuine," she said.
Haley described the tone as respectful and said she appreciated that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden allowed for open dialogue with the governors-elect, with no topic off-limits.
"It was a level of communication where we felt like we were being heard," she said.
Also Thursday, Haley said she will not stay on the sidelines during the presidential primaries in South Carolina.
Haley said she will endorse a Republican candidate at some point before the first-in-the-South primary for the 2012 White House race.
"Absolutely!" she said. "But only after every one of them has had the opportunity to go out and meet with the constituents of South Carolina and hear their concerns. ... What I want to do is let the people of South Carolina see them without any sort of emphasis on who I think is right."
In her four-way primary for governor, Haley received endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, both potential White House candidates.
Palin will be in Columbia today for the last scheduled stop on her book tour, but whether she will meet with Haley is still unknown. Haley said they are "still playing phone tag."