Beltway Breezes; Lawmaking, Federalism, Bipartisanship

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 2007 | Go to article overview

Beltway Breezes; Lawmaking, Federalism, Bipartisanship


Byline: Gary Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Can states tackle a national problem that has stymied federal officials in Washington for years? Maybe, but there is an ironic twist when it comes to providing health coverage for more Americans. With respect to the uninsured, some believe the odds of state success may increase with a little help from the federal government. It's an idea worthy of experimentation. And that's exactly what a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen intend to do by introducing the Health Partnership Through Creative Federalism Act.

Yesterday, Democrat Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, along with Democratic Reps. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and John Tierney of Massachusetts, and Republican Rep. Tom Price of Georgia introduced bipartisan legislation encouraging states to develop creative methods to cover the more than 45 million uninsured Americans. The measure potentially unleashes dozens of new local and regional-level approaches to address the issue of the uninsured, and it would test the efficacy of these new programs using states, to borrow a phrase from former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, as "laboratories of democracy." It encourages local officials to tailor health care reform programs to their own populations and needs, allowing policy-makers to evaluate which approaches work best, which fail, and why.

The legislation is significant for what it could do to help cover the uninsured, but also because it captures the new breezes blowing over Washington's policy and political landscape.

For those closely watching policy-making in Washington over the past decade, it represents a welcome return to principles of new federalism. Following the 1994 election Republicans talked a lot about devolving power to the states. Yet that rhetoric and the policies to back it up waned in many ways to the GOP's detriment. As Republicans consolidated power in Washington by reelecting majorities for five congressional cycles since 1994 and then capturing the presidency in 2000 and 2004 using new federalism as a strategic and integral part of the GOP platform stalled in word and deed. Republicans traditionally criticized Democrats for believing only Washington held the prescriptions to cure our domestic policy ills. For the past decade Republicans became infected with this same inside-the-beltway disease.

Governors have been the political equivalent of Nobel Laureates in these laboratories of democracy, boldly experimenting with new ideas. …

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