Federalism and the Republican Presidential Debate

Let the pundits argue about who won the Republican debate by not losing it, who emerged as the “new” fresh face and who didn’t assert themselves strongly enough.  Since theamericanpartnership.com is devoted to the coverage of federalism issues we’ll focus on how the candidates addressed issues related to state and local government as well as intergovernmental relations. For the most part there was very little substantive debate concerning federalism – other than the federal government should get out of the way and allow states to innovate. Further, the candidates provided little detail on specific ways that states would design and implement programs differently than the federal government.

The discussion of health care policy elicited the most references to federalism with the concept of individual mandates receiving attention from a number of candidates.  Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA) gave his typical response that his healthcare plan was good for the particular circumstances in Massachusetts but would not be good for the entire country . He also announced that on his first day in office he would release an executive order directing the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver to all fifty states allowing them to opt out of “Obamacare”. Both former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT) and businessman Herman Cain claimed that it was not appropriate for the federal government or the states to create an individual mandate for health care.

Governor Rick Perry (TX) took the most strident position on healthcare and federalism by claiming that the people of Texas would like the “federal government out of their business” and that healthcare would be a start. He argued that Medicaid should be block granted back to the states because the “one size fits all” health care mandates from DC resulted in higher costs and less effectiveness. When questioned about the large amounts of uninsured people in Texas, Perry blamed it on a lack of flexibility from the federal government in allowing the state to provide their own choices in healthcare.

The rest of the discussion of the federal government’s relations to the states was piecemeal by issue and individual candidate.  Representative Ron Paul (TX) argued in favor of devolving regulatory powers to the states. He claimed that “if you need the detailed regulations you can do it at the state level, but the federal government is not authorized to nitpick every little transaction. The way they use the Interstate Commerce clause is outrageous.” Paul claimed that he was not necessarily against regulations, he just wants them at the state level if they are going to be enacted.

Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA) argued that welfare reform was successful because it gave flexibility to the states by block granting the program and encouraging innovation. He intimated that the same could be done for other programs such as food stamps and public housing.

Perry avoided a question concerning his comment in Fed Up! That Social Security tossed aside states rights. However Romney revived this concept when he claimed that Perry’s book argued that states should be able to opt out of Social Security. Romney defended the program and argued that it should be strengthened, not eliminated.

Herman Cain seemed most inclined to turnback programs to the states, but offered little in the way of concrete proposals in how states would handle the programs better than the federal government.  He stated that the federal government was not good at “micromanaging” programs like education, Medicare or immigration. He argued for “empowering the states to do more and limit what the federal government does with those types of programs”.

Finally, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (GA) argued for more of a role for the federal government in education. He had positive statements on Obama’s Race to the Top Education program – particularly support for charter schools because they result in parental choice. He was vague as to whether he would mandate charter schools or if they would be a voluntary choice of state and local governments. Unlike Cain, he voiced no opposition to federal government being involved in educational policy.