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Gov. Presses Beltway Delegation

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prodded California’s congressional delegation Thursday to work more cooperatively in bringing federal money back to the state, while Democratic lawmakers warned him to lay off the name-calling and rhetorical attacks that have figured prominently in the governor’s political vocabulary.

Schwarzenegger met behind closed doors for two hours with the state’s 53-member delegation. And although few officials expect to see much largesse from Washington, some contend that forces are in place to at least pick up a few extra billion dollars: California Republicans run six important House committees.

Schwarzenegger, who early on dubbed himself “the Collectinator,” repeatedly has complained that California gets only 79 cents from Washington for every dollar the state’s residents pay in taxes.

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Schwarzenegger’s day here was a usual blitz of high-level meetings, throng of news photographers and gawking tourists.

He sought to introduce some camaraderie at the bipartisan gathering of members of Congress, ordering lobster sandwiches for the members and bringing along his wife, Maria Shriver, a Democrat. She sat with the members but did not speak publicly.

Afterward, Schwarzenegger was asked if he regretted the nickname “Collectinator,” given the complexities of netting more federal money for the state.

“Don’t you think it’s a great title?” he said to the reporter, who was kneeling on the floor in a thicket of TV cameras. “You should come up a little higher because this isn’t a good shot -- me looking down,” he said to the photographers.

Although the main focus of Schwarzenegger’s day was money for California, he also sought to reassure his fellow Republicans about his plan to give a panel of independent judges the power to draw congressional and legislative voting boundaries.

Currently, legislators draw district lines and have generally done so to protect incumbents. Many Republicans fear that changing the district lines could cost them seats in Congress because of California’s large Democratic edge. Some Democrats are also wary of the plan.

Before his meeting with the entire delegation, Schwarzenegger met privately with congressional Republicans, most of whom want to be exempted from the plan.

Schwarzenegger later said he would not yield. He described his redistricting plan as “nonnegotiable” -- and he won an endorsement from the government watchdog group Common Cause.

The endorsement came as a surprise. The organization’s California chapter has been critical of Schwarzenegger’s aggressive fundraising practices.

When the governor met with the full congressional delegation, frustrations were palpable. Schwarzenegger complained that previous efforts to rally the delegation had fizzled. The governor had visited Washington a year ago, with a similar purpose, and he urged members to overcome partisan differences and work together.

But Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) shot back that he was fueling divisions. “Tone down your rhetoric toward policymakers” and “Use or try diplomacy” as a tactic, Watson told the governor, according to a statement from her office.

Schwarzenegger has made repeated digs at state legislators. Since last summer he has referred to them as “girlie-men,” “losers,” “stooges” and spending “addicts,” while suggesting they’ve accomplished so little that they must be taking sleeping pills.

Schwarzenegger gave no ground, repeating his contention that the state capital is in thrall of “special interests” that he is determined to defeat, according to people attending the meeting.

Other issues taken up included organizing the California delegation to fight another round of military base closings and to secure more Medicaid money for the state -- and perhaps fight cuts in the program, which provides health coverage to the poor.

As Schwarzenegger maneuvered to wrest more money for California, federal authorities signaled they would take some back in the form of a fine.

The U.S. government only days ago rejected Schwarzenegger’s request to delay $167 million in penalties for failing to automate California’s child support system. Now, the state must pay two federal fines this year -- something Schwarzenegger did not anticipate when he released his 2005-06 budget in January.

The state expects to get its system to collect and distribute delinquent child support payments up and running by 2008. Since 1998, the state has paid more than $600 million in federal penalties because of its failure to move quickly on the project.

Schwarzenegger last year delayed paying the state’s share of the fine, promising to pay it this year instead. The governor’s budget assumes the state will indeed pay $167 million in penalties from last year, but it also assumed the federal government would delay the next penalty payment. That request was rejected Feb. 4.

Assemblyman John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), chairman of the Budget Committee, said coming up with the money to pay the penalties “is going to be difficult.”

“We had hoped the governor’s trip would help us” to secure more money from the federal government, not less, Laird said.

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Times staff writers Richard Simon and Robert Salladay contributed to this report.


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