INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana politicians have been talking extensively recently about their problems with the size and reach of the federal government, but they often find themselves looking for compromises as a way to ensure federal money continues flowing to the state.
Republican leaders expressed their frustration last week in a pair of very different forums, but with similar sentiments.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, hosted lawmakers from roughly 30 states at the Indiana Capitol to consider ways to call the first constitutional convention since 1787. Frustration over the federal health care law and the national debt are just a few flashpoints for the state lawmakers, who say the federal government has inched its way into many other areas they oversee.
“I think states’ rights and federalism is driving this as much as anything,” Long said Friday, shortly after the meeting of state lawmakers, dubbed The Mount Vernon Assembly, wrapped up.
“We’ve gotten away from that, and this is an effort to take that back on many fronts,” he said. “There’s just not a responsible attitude in Washington, for whatever reason.”
Gov. Mike Pence, who many believe is considering a White House bid in 2016, played on Republican idol Ronald Reagan’s disdain for the federal government in a speech to conservative lawyers and public officials last Friday.
“In his first inaugural address, President Reagan said, `It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment.’ We all remember that. But he also said it is `to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states,”’ Pence said.
“My favorite line from that address is, `All of us need to be reminded, the federal government did not create the states, the states created the federal government,”’ Pence said.
Pence, who spent a dozen years as a member of the federal government before returning to Indiana, has attempted to work that paradox of working in Washington while deploring the culture into a standard joke. He opens many of his talks by saying that if he had another 12 years to live, he’d choose to live them in Washington ... because those were the longest 12 years of his life.
The focus on decentralizing power is especially important for Pence because he has woven it so thoroughly into the tightly scripted message he is using to build his national star. The governor talks up efforts like his support for withdrawing the state from national Common Core education standards and his proposal to expand health care for low-income residents on the state’s terms.
But Pence has also drawn criticism from those further on the right who say he is talking up federalism, but is actually acquiescing to the federal government on key points. The lead author of the measure to withdraw the state from Common Core, for instance, pulled his name from the measure after it was amended to ensure the state’s new standards would still qualify for federal funding.
And, for Pence, Long and other conservative critics of Washington, the money continues to be a balancing act.
Long, who said he would like to see more Democrats join his push for a constitutional convention, noted that the state’s current battle to maintain a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act is the result of a bipartisan push from former President George W. Bush and former U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, that created the legislation in 2001.
“It was not intended, I don’t think, by President Bush, to become the draconian noose around the necks of all the states that it has become. But if we were to lose our waiver in Indiana - and some of the other states are already facing this, Washington has already lost theirs - it inserts the federal government back in in a very negative way, into control of the federal money that we take.”