The American experiment of federalism, and the proper role of the states versus the federal government, continues to evolve. Given the federal government’s current inability to properly manage its programs, it is time to take a fresh look at the evolving partnership between the federal and state governments.
At the birth of our nation, the federal power was extremely limited compared to the states. However, over the last 200 years, the balance point has dramatically shifted with the expansion of the federal government, which has resulted in our current national debt of $18 trillion. The pols in Washington D.C., and frankly the citizenry, have made the conscious choice of maintaining ever-expanding benefits over addressing the debt, effectively taxing our children and grandchildren.
Along the way, states have been co-opted, often willingly, to administer many federal programs, including Medicaid, food stamps and traditional welfare. In fact, like many other states, Montana receives over 40 percent of its state budget from federal funds to administer these various federal programs.
Up until recently, states have continued to lobby D.C. for their share of the federal pie, while naively demanding that Washington not increase federal control over the states. However, this pipe dream ignores the fact that, like in business partnerships, control follows the money.
As a result, state innovation is being stifled as D.C. demands a nationalized “one size fits all” approach. The theoretical state “laboratories of democracy” have been neutered as the federal government demands each state essentially conduct the same experiment.
But certain states are awakening to the reality that the federal government is incapable of efficiently and effectively addressing the needs of its citizens. Rather than lobbying for more federal funding, while hopelessly requesting state control, some states are initiating solutions and committing their own resources to accomplish results. From education, to transportation, to health care reform, certain states are on the leading edge of investing in a new federalism.
It is time for Montana to do the same. There is no better program to start this reform than Medicaid. Obamacare has created uncertainty among patients, providers, and insurers. This is a perfect time to rebuild Montana’s Medicaid program, with our own funds and innovative solutions, and close the coverage gaps on the neediest in our society, especially the disabled. This is very achievable if we reject the Obamacare requirement to cover all health care costs of the able bodied who refuse to work. We can, and should, administer better than the federal bureaucrats.
To reform, achieve results and effectively manage programs for the benefit of our citizens, we need to begin weaning ourselves from federal money (and control). By growing our economy, and reprioritizing our spending, we can begin annually shifting 5 percent of the federal revenues to state sources. As other states join this movement, the federal debt (and power) will diminish. We can do what Congress cannot, and now is the time to try.
Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, is the Montana Senate Majority Leader.