Republican presidential candidates answered questions on federalism, or the role of the federal government versus state governments, during a special episode of Fox News' “Huckabee” show on Saturday.
The Republican presidential hopefuls in general would like to see a less powerful federal government, with more power returned to the states. The event was aimed at better understanding what the current field of candidates would do as president. The debate revealed that many candidates would expand, or not reduce, federal power.
Mike Huckabee, former 2008 presidential candidate and former Governor of Arkansas, moderated the event and questions were asked by three Republican state attorney generals. Only former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman declined to participate in the event. Herman Cain had dropped out of the race earlier that day and was also not in attendance.
The format of the debate was similar to that of the Palmetto Freedom Forum on Labor Day in South Carolina. Each candidate appeared separately on stage and was allotted the same amount of time to answer questions.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich would create more federal bureaucracy, it was noted, by creating local boards to decide if undocumented immigrants who have been living in the country for 20 or 25 years should be given legal status.
“I would rather have my fate determined by a jury of my peers than a Washington bureaucrat,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich also said he would get rid of the Department of Education, give states control of Medicare and replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an “Environmental Solutions Agency.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said strengthening the American family is a proper function of the federal government. He then provided examples of how federal policy weakened families.
“We've seen a federal government that has undermined the family in a lot of ways. Just look at what we've done with some of our welfare programs,” Santorum said. “We do things to actually break families apart.”
Santorum and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann both said they would support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
“Life is the fundamental issue, if you go back to the Declaration of Independence. We have inalienable rights. Those are rights God has given to us, not man,” Bachmann said.
Santorum, who also supports a Federal Marriage Amendment, noted that the states would be involved in the process of amending the Constitution “because the constitutional amendment process requires ratification by the states.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry believes that the new healthcare law gives too much power to the federal government, but also believes in a strong executive branch at the federal level, arguing that the entire law could be stopped with a combination of executive orders and rule changes by the bureaucracies involved in implementing it.
Bachmann argued that an individual mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional at both the federal and state level. When asked why states should not have the authority to pass an individual mandate, she replied, “it goes back to the liberty issue that each of us have.”
Bachmann would also allow the federal government more power in the area of tort reform, or the regulation of malpractice lawsuits. She would support federal government regulation of state malpractice trials, because, “this issue is a fundamental issue.”
The entire federal education law, formerly known and No Child Left Behind and now known as Race to the Top, should be repealed, Bachmann believes. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, on the other hand, said he continues to support some aspects of federal education law, and the federal government needs to oppose the power of the teacher's unions.
“The federal teacher's unions are impeding the federal education of our kids by preventing, in some cases, cyber-learning, preventing choice in schools, preventing merit pay for the best teachers, in some cases keeping teachers who really aren't qualified.”
When asked if he would support doing away with federal regulation of labor unions, Romney replied, “at this stage, I would not propose getting rid of all federal labor law, but I do see that we have to reign in the power of the National Labor Relations Board and see how much we can return to the states.”
Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the most consistent in opposing federal power. He favors doing away with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but would support a slow “phase out” of those programs.
“You can't do that overnight,” Paul said, because, “it would create anarchy.”
Paul also said he would reintroduce the principle of “nullification,” which is the belief that states have the right to overrule, or “nullify,” federal laws that they deem unconstitutional. Prior to the Civil War, southern states used the principle of nullification to defend their rights to maintain legal slavery.