In a speech about one of the hardy perennials of the Reagan agenda -- a renaissance of "federalism" -- Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday raised more than a few conservative eyebrows by pointing out the implications of the credo.

At the 13th annual Conservative Political Action Conference, a convocation sponsored by such true believers as the Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union, Meese said that abortion, gun control and pornography were all matters that should be legislated at a local level. So far so good.

But, he pointed out, "Federalism properly understood means that states or localities may ban handguns . . . or they may seek to enact liberal abortion laws that even go beyond Roe v. Wade. Federalism may not always serve to achieve the conservative agenda." And yet, he said again, "This is the very core of constitutional democracy."

In short, most quotably: "we ought to restore power and authority whether the states are capable of handling it or not."

State of the Union . . . Aides who are still fine-tuning President Reagan's State of the Union address are said to be trying to weave a "compassion" factor into the speech. Among other things, Reagan is to call for a major study of the nation's welfare system. The president will plump for a "pro-family" approach to social welfare, though skeptics doubt that Reagan seriously wants to devote his last years in office to the system's sweeping overhaul that aides say he will propose.

Gramm-Rudman-Who? . . . Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) delights in twitting Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) about the journalistic habit of shortening the title of the new budget law to Gramm-Rudman, which makes Hollings a "silent partner" in the process.

At a dinner the other night, with Hollings present, Rudman said it was a heady experience for him as a first-term senator to be teamed up with a political veteran like Hollings.

"I hadn't realized how long Fritz has been around," Rudman said, deadpan, "until he mentioned the other day that he was the cosponsor of the [1947] Taft-Hartley Act."

PAC-ing it in . . . The Federal Election Commission made it official yesterday: People seeking records on contributions to congressional candidates will have to wait longer or do without under its new budget austerity plan.

Perhaps the most important cutback involves computerized records on political action committees (PACs). Now available an average of 27 days after the PACs have filed their reports, they will soon lag behind by 60 to 90 days.

This means that the only way to track campaign spending by the American Medical Association or National Association of Realtors will be the old-fashioned way: go look it up, PAC by PAC, on the commission's microfilm.

Common Cause President Fred Wertheimer, while acknowledging that "Congress has never been generous with commission funds," is skeptical of the way the FEC has chosen to take its lumps from Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.

"You don't go in and do severe damage to the role that you're supposed to be playing on a daily basis for the public, especially in an election year.

"You cannot take the guts out of a top priority."