Promoting Federalism

I am writing this from “the most historic square mile in America,” a few blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The occasion is the 25th annual Resource Bank meeting, sponsored by The Heritage Foundation and attended by more than 400 leaders of state and regional think tanks.

These brave souls include Larry Reed, president of the established and highly influential Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, Glenn Oppel who is establishing a fledgling new think tank in Montana called the Rocky Mountain Enterprise Institute, and hundreds of others, even including leaders from Australia, Nigeria, and Kenya! They produce studies and promote free-market ideas on economic growth, education, the environment, transportation, and a range of other issues, including health care. Like many small think tanks, they survive mostly on hard work, long hours, and a passion for freedom.

I was invited here by the tireless Bridgett Wagner, director of coalition relations for Heritage, to speak during a session on “Innovations: Ideas Worth Sharing” and described our idea for a market-based prescription drug program, the Prescription Drug Security Card.

Then I travel to Las Vegas this weekend, where the American Legislative Exchange Council is hosting several thousand state legislators for its Spring policy meeting. More on this next week.

Earlier this week, I spoke to a group of health care journalists in Washington at a session hosted by Bob Meyers, president of the National Press Foundation. He invited Dr. Jeanne Lambrew of George Washington University, an eight-year veteran of the Clinton administration, and me to square off on health policy.

While most of the journalists in the room seemed to favor centralized approaches to health reform, comments at the end indicated that I had indeed successfully portrayed a new vision that they believed was worth considering. The idea of further expanding government programs, especially Medicaid, is just not selling.

Finally, a preview of the next battlefield in the health care wars: The Senate will soon begin debating fast-track trade legislation that will include “Trade Adjustment Assistance” for workers who lose their jobs because of expanded trade. Neil Trautwein, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, organized a terrific forum on Tuesday to preview the debate.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle initially insisted that the trade legislation must include subsidies to pay 75% of the health insurance costs of displaced workers who are eligible to extend their job-based coverage through COBRA. The White House and Republican Senate leaders believe (1) this is the wrong vehicle for health care subsidies (2) a sizeable number of workers wouldn’t benefit and (3) subsidized COBRA extension would require creation of a new bureaucratic structure costing about $1,000 a person to run.

Then this week, Sen. Daschle said he might consider the more moderate approach of tax credits. Republicans held the high ground in the Economic Stimulus debate last December by supporting refundable tax credits to more broadly expand coverage to uninsured Americans and their families. That was the right answer then, it’s the right answer now, and they could actually prevail in this upcoming battle.

And now, on to Las Vegas?

Grace-Marie Turner

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