Whatever Happened to Federalism? Time to Reprise a Powerful Idea
Byline: Gary Andres, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
New Federalism isn't that "new" anymore, but in the cacophony of today's policy debate its voice has been unfortunately muted. It's time for someone to give the idea a louder megaphone.
Shifting power back to states or using local governments to test innovative new policies has been around in one form or another as a reaction to Washington-centric New Deal liberalism for more than a half-century. Occasionally, however, changes in political conditions or the emergence of new actors on the government stage ripen a powerful idea. After several years of lying fallow, federalism is ready for a new political harvest. Republicans in particular, in search of new ideas to rebuild their political brand, may want to reprise the concept not only as a way to better solve problems and help people, but also as a tactic to rebuild to rebuild an agenda.
Over the past three decades, interest in New Federalism has ebbed and flowed, manifesting itself in different ways. For example, both Presidents Nixon and Reagan tried to flow money to states by expanding the use of block grants. More recently, after Republicans took control of Congress following the 1994 election, then-Republican governors like Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and John Engler of Michigan worked with President Clinton (also a former governor), and Republican congressional leaders to produce historic welfare reform, giving states more flexibility in running these programs.
But ironically, following the 2000 election, after another former governor George W. Bush won the White House and his party retained Congress, New Federalism moved into a period of radio silence in Washington. At a time when the stars seemed aligned for the concept to reach its zenith, the notion of devolving money, power and influence out of Washington fell into a rhetorical black hole.
Maybe Republicans were too busy pulling the levers of power in Washington, and letting states experiment faded due to benign neglect. Perhaps the prospect of unified control of the legislative and executive branches of government in Washington for the first time in nearly a half-century was a prize too precious to share. Whatever the reasons, New Federalism withered on the vine over the last several years and it's time to breathe new life into the concept.
First of all it's a conservative concept with broad popular appeal, even among swing voters. …