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Bishop leads new GOP effort to empower states

May 19, 2010
In The News

By Matt Canham
The Salt Lake Tribune
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Congressman Rob Bishop speaks during the Salt Lake County GOP convention Saturday, April 24, 2010, in Sandy, Utah. (© 2010 Douglas C. Pizac/Special to the Tribune) (Douglas C. Pizac)

Washington » A new Republican group led by Rep. Rob Bishop wants to hand control of federal programs to states in a power shift meant to reduce Washington's influence and boost innovation.

The 10th Amendment Task Force's first bill is aimed squarely at Utah, allowing the state to negotiate with federal agencies to take the reins of education, transportation and Medicaid. Bishop calls it the "Utah Laboratory of Democracy Act."

"I think what you would find out is that we could do the system faster, more efficiently and more creatively than they can," said Bishop, R-Utah, who got the idea for the new task force and the bill from an op-ed written by leaders of Utah's Legislature asking for more flexibility.

Bishop and the nine other founders of the 10th Amendment Task Force gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to express their frustration with federal government growth and articulate why this is different from states' rights campaigns of years past.

The 10th Amendment gives the powers not reserved for the federal government to the states or the people. Bishop, a former history and government teacher, said the founding fathers created this amendment to balance power among levels of government "for the sole purpose of protecting the rights and options and creativity of individuals."

He argued this balance has tilted toward the federal government for decades under the leadership of both parties, often because Congress dangles money before state leaders. He saw this firsthand during his 16 years in the Utah Legislature.

"I learned to hate the federal government," he said. "I could point to overpasses that were made because there was a 10-to-1 match or programs we ran simply because the government bribed us with money."

Republicans for decades have said they want to limit federal powers, but task force members say they plan to shift the strategy from simply cutting Washington to empowering the 50 states.

"Our goal is still to disperse government programs back from Washington to the states for efficiency and creativity," Bishop said.

The group, which is under the House's Republican Study Committee, said its new campaign is spurred by the populist anger embodied in town hall meetings over health reform and the broader tea party movement. Other members include Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

"Big government is on the march. We've got to put an end to that," Chaffetz said. "We want less power in the Congress."

To further those aims, the group will work with traditional Republican groups such as the Federalist Society and Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist said it makes sense to have states take on more of these programs because they have a unique level of accountability to residents.

"When one state does something particularly silly you have a chance to move out of that state," Norquist said.