US governors put the squeeze on Mr. Reagan

The nation's governors are pushing the administration to come up with specific legislation to make the so-called New Federalism a reality.

On the one hand, they complain that, from what they've seen so far, President Reagan's plans for New Federalism put too much of a burden on them. They're emphasizing that Mr. Reagan's package -- which enables the federal government to transfer responsibility for welfare, food stamps, and some other programs to the states while assuming all costs for the medicaid program -- simply isn't acceptable. But, ironically, they're also affirming that they would like to have more governmental powers turned back to them.

So they are talking about coming up with their own plans for a swap of responsibilities, and then launching a concerted effort to persuade members of Congress to put their program into effect.

It's uncertain, however, that the governors will be able to agree on such a plan.

Even if some sort of plan is approved here, it's likely to be broad enough and vague enough so that Congress will have to work out many of the important details.

This, observers say, poses a question: Will the governors be willing to lobby Congress for such a broad plan?

The tendency for governors at these conferences is to pass all kinds of resolutions -- and then go home and forget about them. The conference leaders here say this time things will be different, that the governors are ready to take strong and persistent action now to shape their own brand of New Federalism.

But whether such a plan succeeds or fails, the motivation behind it will be clear. The effort is intended to send out a message from here to the President to, as one governor puts it, ''get his act together.''

The governors feel they have already accepted much of the thrust of Reagan's New Federalism plan. For example, this year instead of asking for a lot more federal funds, many of them are saying they agree with Reagan's cutback in spending for the states. A number of governors have called for a freeze in government spending at both federal and state levels.

But the governors say that the Reagan administration isn't working assiduously and effectively to shape a suitable compromise program. So their plan now is either to get the President to move ahead with specific legislation, or to put their own plan into the legislative hopper.

Gov. Richard A. Snelling of Vermont, chairman of the National Governors' Assocation and a Republican, met with the President a few days ago and told Reagan he would be leading the effort to shape an alternative federalism plan. It seems that the President was unsuccessful in his efforts to persuade Governor Snelling to come over to the administration's point of view.

Snelling told the President that unless the administration presents the New Federalism program to Congress within the next few months, the governors will seek to persuade Congress to adopt their own initiative.

Implicit is this additional threat: If the President moves forward now with his present federalism plan, incorporating the return of welfare to the state, the governors will then concentrate on defeating it.

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