Giving States a Say

PRESIDENT Clinton's meetings with the nation's governors this week ended with some intriguing signals that the "new federalism" of the 1980s may be replaced with "realistic federalism" in the '90s. If similar signals keep coming, the country could see the beginnings of a welcome change in the working relationship between Washington and state capitals.

Signal No. 1: Mr. Clinton ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to streamline Medicaid's waiver process, allowing states to more easily test approaches to delivering services that promise to be more efficient or less expensive than the program currently allows.

Signal No. 2: Clinton invited four governors leading the National Governors Association's health-care-reform effort to participate in a weekly conference call with the White House as it proceeds to draft its health-care proposals. One NGA official calls this "an unbelievable offer."

From health care to welfare reform and deficit reduction, the Clinton White House seems to be trying to forge a working relationship with governors based on advanced consultation. This effort deserves support. For too long, Washington has tended to enact welfare, education, and social programs without adequate prior consultation with states. While Washington OK'd legislation, the costs began to KO state budgets, especially after federal revenue-sharing ended.

That Clinton comes to the White House from a governor's mansion clearly is one factor at play.

But of at least equal importance are the federal deficit and mushrooming health-care costs, which require Washington and the states to work on solutions more closely from the outset.

It's early yet in this administration; since 1976, voters have sent two other governors to the White House who began by calling for teamwork with states and then backed away from that concept. We hope it's different this time.

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