The Reagan administration offered this week a major revision to its New Federalism proposal: if the states will assume total responsibility for income maintenance programs for the able-bodied poor, the federal government will finance and administer welfare assistance programs for the aged, blind and severely disabled.
But the carrot was extended on a stick. Unless the states agree to take over Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or food stamps in some form, said White House intergovernmental liaison Richard S. Williamson, the president is strongly considering withdrawing one of the elements of his proposal that the state and local groups like the most--Reagan's plan for the federal government to assume responsibility for the $19.1 billion Medicaid program.
President Reagan's "position was that he'd given something and now they should give something," said Williamson.
The new offer was floated by the White House during meetings with state and local government officials as the administration attempts to achieve a consensus from mayors, governors, state legislators and black elected officials on how the responsibilities of government should be "sorted out" before a bill is sent to Capitol Hill this spring.
President Reagan plans trips to Alabama, Tennessee and Oklahoma next week to sell the American public, which already likes the idea, on the proposal, but in Washington administration aides have had the tougher job of selling it to the very people whose power is to be enhanced.
Mayors are worried that the states will not treat them fairly, and black local officials are worried about the potential for discrimination. Governors and legislators have a number of major problems with features of the program outlined by Reagan in his State of the Union address.
Williamson, chief architect of the proposal, described the series of meetings held over the last week with state and local groups as being somewhat like labor negotiations.
And, right now, he said, they are "no love-in."
In a meeting with black city and county officials Thursday, Reagan agreed to incorporate a request for protection against discrimination in the New Federalism bill.
For the cities, the White House has offered guarantees that they would continue to receive the same share of federal funding. But the dickering has proved more difficult with the governors and legislators, two groups whose support is crucial if legislation is to get anywhere on the Hill.
The contention is over who should run the income maintenance programs for the poor. Reagan has argued that governments closer to home are far more able to determine who is in need of such aid than is Washington, and the president has long expressed a preference for shifting all such programs to the states.
In the State of the Union address, however, he offered a concession to the states: The federal government would take Medicaid if the states would accept food stamps and welfare.
Governors and state legislators contend that the poor are a national responsibility and income maintenance programs for them should be run at the federal level. So far they have not budged from this position.
The new alternative suggested this week by the White House would, instead of parceling out the programs, divide the poor who are served by them.
In other words, the states would assume responsibility for the younger poor--running medical, food and income programs for them--while the federal government would do the same for the aged and severely disabled.
So far, the states aren't buying that one either.
A coalition of state and local government representatives headed by Vermont Gov. Richard A. Snelling (R), who is also the chairman of the National Governors Association, issued a statement Thursday saying in part, "We continue to believe that income security should be primarily a resonsibility of the federal government."
Meanwhile, critics, most of them state and local officials, continued yesterday a minor drumbeat of opposition to various other elements of the administration's Federalism plan.
"What we fear is that the 'New Federalism' would result only in shifting a federal deficit problem to the local level," Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., told a congressional committee.
Rep. Kent R. Hance (D-Tex.), who allied himself with Reagan in last year's tax battle, denounced the administration's federalism plan because the oil profits tax is being proposed for funding of an element of it.
Claiming that oil-rich Texas would be the loser, Hance said if Reagan is "looking for Texas to subsidize his New Federalism, we want none of it."