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A speech I wish a new president would deliver

A smaller federal government, and more emphasis on states, is what I want to see from the White House

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House on Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Washington.
Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

As I begin my new administration, I pledge to address the challenges facing our nation. For that reason, today I’m announcing an historic federalism summit. I invite the nation’s governors and top legislative leaders from every state to meet with me and the leaders of Congress so that we can forge a close partnership to jointly solve America’s most difficult problems.

My first effort as president will not be to promote Washington solutions, or to ask Congress to impose new federal programs. Instead, I will act to create an unprecedented partnership with state and local government leaders to tackle our nation’s problems at state and local levels, where they can best be solved.

I will use my authority, and I will ask Congress, to move power, decision-making authority — and tax dollars — back to the states and local governments, where innovation can thrive.

Such an enormous transition won’t be easy, and it will take some time. It will also illuminate our difficult financial problems. Our nation has been borrowing $4 of every $10 it spends. I will not simply devolve federal budget problems to the states, but all levels of government will have to tighten their belts. I firmly believe that restructuring the federal system is a key step in fundamentally changing the negative trajectory of our country’s finances.

The reality is that Washington is broken and bankrupt because it has tried to do too much. It has amassed and centralized so much power and responsibility that it is incapable of keeping the promises it has made. The ultra-centralized federal model would never work in business, and isn’t working in politics. The federal government was never intended to take care of every need of every citizen from cradle to grave. In a country as big and diverse as the United States, such expectations are simply unrealistic. Putting aside politics, ideology, political parties and personalities, the reality is that the federal government is just plain broken from a practical, operational standpoint.

The best organizations in the world today operate in a decentralized, bottom-up fashion, with intelligence and decision-making power out in local offices and on the front lines, rather than centralized at headquarters. The federal government is top-heavy, bureaucratic, overly prescriptive and unresponsive to its customers — the citizens. It will soon be unable to fulfill its financial obligations, and polls show it has lost the trust and faith of citizens.

In an era of decentralized innovation and intelligence, distributed among millions of networked smartphones and tablets via social networking, crowdsourcing and cloud computing, the federal government operates like an old-fashioned, one-size-fits-all mainframe.

States and local governments are better positioned to deliver most day-to-day services that citizens desire and are willing to pay for. They are more nimble, more innovative, more focused and closer to the people. Using advanced technology, states and local governments today can communicate, collaborate, learn best practices and form interstate compacts better than ever before. Empowered states will produce an upward spiral of competence, innovation and capability, a race to the top.

It’s true that states will approach problems differently, just as different businesses compete for customers in different ways. In health care, some states might want a single-payer plan. Some might want an entirely market-based approach. Some states may want high taxes and plentiful services; other states may want low taxes and maximum individual responsibility. Such diversity would be good for the country.

Some programs might fail. Some states might fail. But that’s better than the entire country failing. Clearly, 50 governors, 8,000 state legislators and thousands more local officials, are more likely to solve the nation’s health, education and welfare problems than 535 congressmen and one president in cloistered Washington.

The federal government, focused on its limited constitutional role, could be lean, mean, efficient and effective. It could be a success, instead of a failure, dealing with national defense, immigration, foreign affairs, interstate commerce and other constitutional duties.

I believe that the balanced federalism established by our nation’s founders, from which we have unfortunately strayed, will work as well in this modern era of advanced technology as it did in the days of horses and buggies. This is the progressive, forward-looking, high-tech way to solve the problems our country faces.

I look forward to reenthroning states as coequal partners as we work together to solve the nation’s problems.

LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Email: lwebb@exoro.com.