WASHINGTON – Maine’s Republican governor-elect said President Obama is more pragmatic than he expected, after meeting him Thursday during a briefing of new governors in the nation’s capital.

But Gov.-elect Paul LePage also said that, unlike him, Obama tends to view issues from a political perspective.

“He seems far more practical, more of a pragmatist than I would have ever given him credit for. So from that perspective, I think he would like to find solutions,” LePage said just outside the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue, where more than 20 new governors had lunch and met with members of the Obama administration.

“Where I think we’re pretty different is I think he looks at life being a lot more political than I. I look at it more people, he looks at it political. I’ll get mad quicker than he will,” LePage said, chuckling.

LePage made national news while campaigning in September when he told fishermen angry over federal regulations that if he was elected, there would be newspaper headlines saying, “Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.” An aide said the comment didn’t come up Thursday.

Obama told the crowd of new governors — many of them Republicans who found success running against some of his policies — that his Democratic administration will be accessible and receptive to new ideas from the state level.

“Many of you were elected on the basis that we’ve got to get control of spending because you care about the next generation and if we continue down the path that we’re on, then we’re going to have problems,” Obama said. “What that means is, we’re going to be interested in hearing from all of you about programs that you think are working, but also programs that you think are not working. Contrary to the mythology, believe it or not, it turns out that I would love to eliminate programs that don’t work.”

Obama also said that although in some instances he believes national standards are necessary, for “the most part” he would support experimentation on the part of the states.

“If states are going to continue to be laboratories for democracy, that’s something that we welcome and embrace,” he said.

LePage said that when he shook hands with the president, he brought up the issue of federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates to rural health care providers.

“It’s really very difficult for us to provide affordable health care when the federal government is reimbursing below cost. I think if they pay cost, then our health insurance costs in the private sector will drop, because now it’s cost shifting,” he said.

Hospitals have been forced to lay off doctors and technicians because of the low reimbursement rates, something that is particularly troubling as Maine and the country try to emerge from the recession, LePage said.

“(Obama) wasn’t very encouraging that that would change,” he said.

The meeting was part of a two-day trip to Washington for LePage, who met Wednesday with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. Presumptive House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other prominent Republicans sought to forge closer ties with the more than a dozen new GOP state leaders.

“The proof is going to be in the pudding when we see how closely (the relationship) develops, but there is an interest and a desire to get the states and the federal government in closer communications, in all aspects,” LePage said.

LePage also had the opportunity to speak with the Canadian ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer, on Thursday morning.

“I did speak to the ambassador about border trade, particularly Canadians coming into Maine to shop and Mainers going to Canada to shop,” LePage said.

An American can go to Canada and buy up to $200 worth of goods tax-free, but a Canadian can buy only $20 worth of tax-free goods in the U.S., he said.

“I said if we have NAFTA as free trade, then Canadian people should be allowed to buy as much as we are allowed to buy over there, on the same tax-free basis, and he was very agreeable on that,” LePage said.

LePage is due to be sworn in as Maine’s governor in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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