Michael Barone

Rhode Island has hired Democrat super-lawyer David Boies to bring a lawsuit to reduce the state's pension obligations. "There's no contract," Boies said. "Even if there was a contract, the state, pursuing the public interest, has the right to modify contracts."

Or consider New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie has famously opposed the public employee unions. He has formed a coalition with Democratic legislators with roots in private-sector unions.

Those Democrats, like Christie, argue that public employees should not get far more generous benefits and pensions than the taxpayers who are paying for them.

Another example is the state of Washington, where last week two Democrats joined with Republicans to form a new governing coalition in the state Senate. That wouldn't have happened four years ago, when Democrats had a 31-18 edge.

But in the Obama years that margin was whittled down to 26-23, and with two defections the new coalition is ahead 25-24. It installed a supporter of charter schools and critic of teacher unions as education chairman and a skeptic on Obamacare as health care chairman.

If you look back on the great conservative public policy successes of the 1990s, welfare reform and crime control, the initiative came from the states and localities, mostly from Republican governors and mayors, but from many Democrats, as well.

Something similar seems to be happening on pensions and union contracts. A few large states, notably California and Illinois, are trying to solve their problems by raising taxes. The result seems to be unemployment above the national average.

But in many states, reform is taking hold, led by Republicans in some cases but by Democrats, as well. The fiscal squeeze is felt more urgently in the states: They can't print money and can't count on Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve to buy 70 percent of their bonds.

Some Democrats in Congress recognize that entitlement programs are on an unsustainable path. But they're not saying much in public.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama seems to be heeding the advice of those who say entitlements must never, never be reformed.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM