Dynamic tension: A conversation about federalism: Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and North Carolina Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue share their thoughts on the state-federal relationship.

Position::FEDERALISM - Interview

The United States isn't the only country to practice federalism, but the American version is as unique to governing as jazz is to music. Throughout our history, with control of Congress and the White House changing hands, the balance of power has constantly shifted among the federal government and the states.

How will the current Republican-controlled Congress and Trump administration alter the state-federal relationship? State Legislatures magazine put this and other questions to Senator Dan Blue, Democratic leader in North Carolina and president of NCSL, and Assemblyman Robin Vos, Republican speaker in Wisconsin.

How do you view the tension between the federal government and state legislatures today?

Blue: Tension is a healthy thing. It was designed to be that way-divided responsibilities between the states and the federal government, each basically equipped to be a check on the other, with states as active partners through this concept of federalism.

Vos: The Founders were so incredibly bright in how they designed a system where there is natural tension between folks who want to have decisions made closer to home in state governments and the necessity to have decisions made on a broader basis when they impact the entire country.

I fear that having D.C. make so many decisions makes us less nimble and less competitive. That's why federalism is something we need to reinvigorate. We need to do a better job explaining why decisions made closer to the ground are better for all involved.

Where does the pressure usually come from, the president or Congress?

Vos: It's really a combination. It's an overarching regulatory burden where people who I will never meet, never understand why they're making decisions, are making decisions on behalf of the entire country. Federal legislators are a little bit better than the bureaucracy. Sometimes legislators think they found the perfect answer, and it might be for some places, but not for everywhere.

How has federalism affected your state, either positively or negatively?


Vos: When a lot of states made the decision to accept federal funding for an expansion of Medicaid, Wisconsin asked for a waiver to do it differently. We decided to cover every single person in the state who is at 100 percent or below the poverty level, whether they have children or not, with basically no premiums, no deductibles, no cost share. We had the ability to get a waiver under the concept of federalism.

In 2002, we...

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