AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Find a compromise and immediately end the partial government shutdown - that's the call from the National Governors Association in a bipartisan letter addressed to the White House and to leaders of Congress. The governors say their national parks are overflowing with trash, that coastal safety is at risk because of a reduced Coast Guard and that states could end up losing money as well. Joining us now is the chair of the NGA, Steve Bullock. He's the Democratic governor from Montana. Welcome to the program.
STEVE BULLOCK: Audie, it's great to be with you.
CORNISH: So have you gotten a phone call or a response from the White House or from any of the congressional leaders listed in the letter?
BULLOCK: We have not. We just put out this letter, but really hoping because this - you know, this isn't a partisan issue. Governors all across our country are encouraging the president and Congress to find a compromise, immediately end the government shutdown. And as we can - uniformly, Democrats and Republicans say that this is a real failure in governance and becoming a weight on our economy and American people, that they need to get something done.
CORNISH: I want to talk about Montana for a second. Is there anything that your state has had to cover that would normally be paid for by the federal government?
BULLOCK: Well, I think from the perspective of we have local business people in West Yellowstone, as an example, that are cleaning toilets and providing supplies. We're getting to the point my own executive assistant may lose the ability to buy a house because the seller's relying on an FHA loan. So the impacts of people are real.
CORNISH: What actions are you taking to make sure that federal employees in your state are looked after?
BULLOCK: Well, one - and I think every governor is coming together in saying that we as governors have to deal with the real-life impacts of what does happen or doesn't happen in Washington, D.C. While they might think this is all just negotiating tactics, we're on the front lines. So part of it is coming together, all of us, and elevate it in saying, this has to stop now.
CORNISH: I guess what I'm trying to understand is is there anything that you can do as a state leader to mitigate the shutdown from your state, from the state level, or are you stuck?
BULLOCK: By and large, we're stuck. I mean that we can't carry the burden of the federal government. If we get to the end of this month, as an example, when it comes to SNAP benefits, we can't be providing the dollars to keep the Small Business Administrations open. That's what we rely on, in this system of federalism, that - for Washington, D.C., to work. And it ain't working right now.
CORNISH: You write that the debate over the wall can be dealt with at another time. But you have, let's say, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the idea of a wall immoral. Right? So it's a nonstarter for her. What's your response to a White House that says, look, this is the only way we can force this discussion? It's the only way it'll happen?
BULLOCK: But these are - at this point, have that discussion not without impacting, though, like, 800,000 federal workers and people in every community across this - across the country. I mean, these are negotiating tactics as opposed to saying, let's be responsible. Let's get government back open immediately and then get everybody around the table.
CORNISH: You are, as we mentioned, a Democrat in a state that has gone for President Trump. What is your message for Democrats in Washington who are trying to negotiate with this president?
BULLOCK: (Laughter) I don't know that I could give Democrats in D.C. sort of guidance on how to negotiate with this president. I don't know that I could give Republicans guidance. I mean, you saw before Christmas when the Senate unanimously passed an extension, and then this president walked back on it. So it may be a daily thing.
It - but the perspective is that, no matter what, I mean, both sides - the Republicans in Congress, the Democrats in Congress and the president - should realize that people's lives shouldn't be the negotiating chip. Let's get government running because folks all across this country expect it.
CORNISH: Montana Governor Steve Bullock. He's a Democrat. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
BULLOCK: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.