The Corner

A New Partnership with Governors

Today the House Committee on Energy and Commerce begins writing a new chapter in federalism.

We will hear directly from governors about the devastating consequences of Obamacare that loom for their states — a sobering reminder about the budgetary time bomb the new health-care law represents.

Inviting state leaders to the corridors of Congress today is just the start of this new openness to federalism. Over the next two years my colleagues and I in the House will regularly solicit input from governors across the country on a host of issues, including job creation, federal spending, health care, energy, the environment, and economic regulations — a big change from the days when the Democratic majority thought and acted as if all wisdom resided inside the Beltway.

It’s time to turn that page. We have deep respect for the views of governors on a host of issues. We want and need their advice and expertise, and we will listen to and act on their comments. Their input will shape our thinking and our legislative products. This new partnership with state leaders is on full display today, and it will be seen time and again in the coming months.

Four core beliefs motivate this fresh collaboration.


First, we believe in a government closer to the people. Washington policymakers neither fully understand nor always anticipate local conditions the way state and local officials can. States must be empowered to construct policies that capture these nuances and differences, instead of papering over them with broad federal mandates or inflexible rules.

Second, one size does not fit all when it comes to policy development and implementation. Working in concert with governors, we can better structure laws that give states the room for creativity and innovation, necessary ingredients for successful outcomes. We can also promote flexibility and common sense in regulations by holding the administration accountable for the rules it hands down.

Federal spending on state programs is a great example of the power of flexibility. Like us, governors face harsh budgetary realities. It’s time to face the facts together. States won’t relish the prospect of reduced federal funding. We understand that. But through our new partnership, we also pledge to give states the latitude to shape programs to best fit their local needs. “We can handle less money,” we often hear from our statehouse friends, “just give us the flexibility to manage with less.”

Message received. Our promise is to give states that flexibility.

Third, states are incubators of innovation and hotbeds for new ideas. By listening to governors, Washington can learn about both achievements and failures. Congress can replicate and scale successful solutions in other regions, thereby leveraging accomplishments. States can also serve as proving grounds for policy implementation, demonstrating how to translate ideas into action.

Fourth, Washington policies often negatively impact state budgets. Given many states’ precarious fiscal condition, Congress must redouble its efforts to ensure that legislation and regulations don’t add costs to local budgets. Our renewed conversation with governors will keep Washington policies from pushing states into a fiscal abyss.

Over the past two years, the pendulum of power has swung dangerously toward the federal government and away from the states. Congress and federal regulators headed down this path without much regard for the views of states, and the challenges governors are now confronting in our health-care system are just one example of the disastrous results. Obamacare will dramatically expand the number of individuals dependent on Medicaid, forcing states to limit benefits rather than focus on those most in need. Our new partnership will change that, giving states an enhanced role in the creation of policies and the flexibility to make them work.

For the last two years, an enlarged federal Leviathan — fueled by unified Democratic control of the legislative and executive branches of government — has diminished the voices of governors. The 2010 election created a new hope for more vigorous federalism, and beginning today, that hope is becoming reality. New governors and a Republican majority in the House will work together to strike a balance for smaller, more accountable and flexible government — closer to the people and attentive to local concerns.

Our new chapter in federalism is not complete. But a new page is on display in the Energy and Commerce Committee today.

— Rep. Fred Upton is a Republican from Michigan and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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