States to Feds: Drop Dead


Very interesting piece by USA Today's Dennis Cauchon about how the states are increasingly fed up with federal policies–and are doing something about it:

A new era of activism by state governments has arrived. Unhappy with what's happening in Washington, governors, legislatures and state attorneys general are leading a charge to set the national agenda on issues from health care to pollution control to securities regulation.

The new initiatives are largely liberal challenges to conservative policies adopted in Washington by the Republican-controlled Congress and White House. The activist states, mostly in the North and West, have the pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street and other institutions on the defensive in a way that threatens to undermine interest groups' political success in the nation's capital.

Cauchon makes several interesting observations throughout: that this is a reversal of traditional political roles between libs and cons; that the one catch of the new initiatives is that they can't be based on increasing taxes; that this is happening precisely at the moment that the GOP controls more states than the Dems in fifty years; and that the states are trying to dictate national policy via state capitols.

On the last point, he quotes American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Greve:

"States are trying to pre-empt Congress on national issues, and it's quite dangerous….An attorney general can jump into an issue, put on a white hat and lead a crusade while everyone else sits around doing nothing….The result usually is bad policy that legislatures don't even vote on….Price regulation will be signed and sealed in some courthouse in Carson City (Nev.) rather than in Washington, D.C."

NEXT: The Tao of Dow

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  1. I was watching “Left Wing” recently and the episode dealt with the issue of physician-assisted suicide. Fantasy President Bartlett was outraged the some people thought physician-assisted suicide might be a federal issue–clearly the Founders meant for such issues to be decided by the States. I guess even liberals can be fair-weather federalists.

  2. Brendan,

    Those fair-weather attitudes cross party lines. A typical Republican tactic is to support increased regulation at the national level, while sneaking in a preemption clause to overturn stricter preexisting regulations at the state level. The effect is to create a uniform regulatory standard at a national level that is less restrictive than that of many local jurisdictions. That’s been one (among many) of the motives for big business support of the federal regulatory state for over a century, according to Gabriel Kolko.

    And as you point out in regard to assisted suicide (not to mention drugs and gay marriage), authoritarian pod people of the Istook-Hatch variety are extremely fond of using federal law as a social engineering tool. And let’s not even get started on the “compassionate conservative” social agenda, like the No Child’s Behind Left Unviolated Act.

  3. I’m unsure if forcing the lobbysts out of Washington and into the state capitals is a good or bad idea.

    It would be nice to get them out of DC, but do i want to live near THOSE kinds of people? It’ll bring down property values.

  4. In the end, most politicians who profess federalist sympathies are quite selective about it. It’s manifestly obvious to most politicians that their own pet policies, whatever they may be, are good, and since the Constitution is good, their pet policies must be Constitutional. Therefore anything they support is properly a federal matter. However, it’s also manifestly obvious to most of them that the other side’s policies are bad, and since the constitution is good the other side’s policies must be unconstitutional. Therefore anything the other side supports should be left to the states, not the federal government.

  5. If prices did get regulated in Carson City, as Greve fears, commerce can move to California or Utah. If prices get regulated in D.C., there’s no escape. Although legislation via the courts is, I agree, less desirable, hooray for the States!

    An idea Cauchon could have made more explicit: Something affecting many, or even all, States is not necessarily a Federal issue. Any blanket national solution almost guarantees some States a less-desired outcome.

  6. The funny thing is the major cause of all this agitation is rent seeking by big pharma.

    The guys who went along with the FDA when it said that drugs not only need to be proven safe. They need to be proven to work. Driving the cost of drug development from $10 million per drug to $100 million. Why would big pharma go along with such a deal? To keep newcomers out.

    Did I mention that big pharma is one of the largest backers of the drug war? Keeping the anti-anxiety drug marijuana off the market.

    The reaction to all this is just the inevitable effort to design a government program to counter the results of another government program.

    The funny thing is I hear so many “libertarians” touting the free market in drugs and the hit drug development will take from “regulation”.

    There is no free market in drugs. The drug companies are already well regulated. So far they like it that way.

  7. M. Simon,

    I’d never considered the distinction between regulations of safety and efficacy. And I didn’t realize it made the difference in cost was an order of magnitude. That has a bearing on the cost savings from abolishing the FDA, it seems to me, and is therefore relevant to the issue of patents as a means of recouping cost. How about simultaneously abolishing patents, and abolishing testing mandates that increase costs 1000%?

    Caveat emptor!

  8. Illinois didn’t manage to be first state to give the Feds the finger and go to Canada for drugs; New Hampshire has beat them to it. Now we just have to chase that pesky border patrol away from Pittsburg, NH (which once was an independent country, by the way).

  9. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 07:21:03
    A solved puzzle is just a picture.

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