On February 21, the Rose Institute hosted Tim Conlan at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum for a lunch program. Tim Conlan is a professor at George Mason University who has authored numerous publications in the areas of federalism and public policy making. Conlan spoke on the subject of recent developments in federalism in the 21st century.
Rather than discuss more theoretical approaches to power and federalism, Dr. Conlan spoke primarily on the contemporary politics of federalism. Conlan argued that George W. Bush’s presidency presented a more radical, top-down brand of federalism than President Obama’s, citing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 as an example of a departure from previous intergovernmental policies. Dr. Conlan also noted that President Obama’s approach to federalism has been, in general, undefined in that he has never outlined a specific approach to intergovernmental relations. Moreover, Conlan contended that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, largely seen as President Obama’s most far-reaching federal policy, represented a unique, yet not necessarily expansive, approach to federalism in that, following National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, states are effectively allowed to opt out of the Medicaid expansion.
Dr. Conlan outlined the more recent pattern of how the majority party (Democrat or Republican) in both the executive and legislative branches in the federal government has attempted to use federalism to their advantage, while the minority party has countered with arguments for increased states’ rights. This presents a shift from the 1950s and 1960s in which local governments held more sway not just in their own region’s self-determination but in the federal government as well, as Conlan highlighted former mayor of Chicago Richard J. Daley’s direct communication with President Johnson and the subsequent waning influence of local politicians on federal government.