A group of conservative House Republicans will launch a states' rights task force this week but hope to avoid getting mired in debates over a host of controversial 10th Amendment issues such as drug laws and gun control.
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), one of the founding members of the new 10th Amendment Task Force, said Monday that the group will look at ways to restore power that has been siphoned away from the states by the federal government.
"It doesn't mean cutting programs, it just means taking them out of federal control," he said. "It's not just about shrinking the size of government, it's about increasing the number of options and choices people have" on the state level.
"The Task Force was formed to uphold the principle that the will of the people is best served at the state and local levels, and that the federal government should not interfere in matters that are fully within the purview of the states," Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said in a statement. The task force will be unveiled at a press conference Thursday.
Debate over the 10th Amendment — which reserves for the states any powers not specifically granted to the federal government by the Constitution — can often lead to the fringes of the political spectrum, where purists argue that federal laws on issues such as health care, guns, drug control and highway funding are unconstitutional.
But with the recent passage of a controversial immigration law in Arizona and the national debate over health care reform, the issues of states' rights and the limits on federal power have moved from the fringes to the middle of public discourse. The 10th Amendment "can encompass many things," said Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), another co-founder of the task force. "The task force is not issue-specific. ... It's about conserving the Constitution."
Bishop said no matter what the topic, the group's goal will be to "restore balance" between the states and the federal government.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.), a member of the task force and the founder of the Constitution Caucus, predicted the group would confront issues such as federal highway and education funding.
Asked if the task force would take up gay marriage, Garrett said conservatives prefer to see people in the states address that issue, rather than the courts.
Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center, said politicians often ignore the Constitution until it serves their political purposes.
"Politicians and political parties tend to talk about the Constitution when it advances their causes," he said.
Boldin said he and his team raised hot-button issues such as the decriminalization of marijuana with a Congressional staffer who contacted them about the task force in early March.
"They seemed very open to [issues] that may not be in their purview," he said, though he was left with the impression that the group was likely to engage such issues "from the left."
Boldin said he warned the staffer about making the task force a partisan endeavor.
"The Constitution isn't about promoting conservative values," Boldin said.
Bishop said even though the group is being set up under the umbrella of the RSC, he would welcome Democratic participation.
Gary Howard, a spokesman for the Campaign for Liberty, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that emerged from the presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), said it was fairly common for people to talk about states' rights but then feel differently about the controversial issues such as abortion or gay marriage. "A lot of people express their support for state empowerment on issues that they like or issues that they don't like," he said.
Other members of the task force include Republican Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Mike Conaway (Texas), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Tom McClintock (Calif.) and Randy Neugebauer (Texas).
Bishop says he hopes that the task force will go beyond educating the public about federalism and the 10th Amendment.
"I just want to do more than write a nice position paper to read and throw away," he said.