President George W. Bush is in the process of drafting an executive order on federalism that might help defuse criticism that he has betrayed his roots by overriding state authority on patients' rights, taxes, education, energy, the environment, and the faith-based initiative.
Bush, a former Texas governor, called in his campaign and early in his administration for a more even balance of power between Washington, D.C. and the states, but state officials say he has not practiced what he preached.
Proponents of states rights level these specific criticisms:
Bush's actions may not be much different than those of his predecessor, who was also seen as encroaching on states' rights. Laws passed during President Clinton's eight years in office weakened states' capacities to protect consumers on securities activities, pre-empted state regulation of local telecommunications businesses, and cut off states' taxing authority over Internet transactions.
State officials are looking for reassurance from Bush in his forthcoming executive order. Frank Shafroth, director of state and federal relations for the National Governors' Association, said his organization hopes Bush's order will create a standing body to hold the administration accountable for proposed actions that could override state authority. Such a unit already exists in Congress.
"By the end of this year, we'll have a clearer view of whether there is a commitment to change the way the federal government deals with states," Shafroth says.
Pietro Nivola, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says ordinary citizens should care about the state-federal relationship because too much centralization puts power in the hands of a limited group of decision-makers and threatens democracy.
Citizens should also care about the state-federal balance because when Washington, D.C. places demands on states, it could force taxpayers to pay higher state taxes or to accept reductions in the quality of education and public safety, proponents of states' rights say.
At a meeting with governors at the outset of his presidency, Bush said he would work to ensure a healthy balance in federal-state relations. "When the history of this administration is written, it will be said the nation's governors had a faithful friend in the White House...I'm going to make respect for federalism a priority in this administration," he said.