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Is US Federalism dead?

•    The 10th amendment gives the states power over all matters which were not given specifically to the federal government. Ashbee says this amendment is “pulling the constitution towards states’ rights”.
•    However, the “elastic clause” (Article 1 section 8) of the constitution allows the federal government to “make all laws which are necessary” to execute (carry out) the laws that it makes. Ashbee refers to the “Stretching power” of this and other sections of the US constitution. 
•    The two sections of the constitution above appear to contradict each other. The federal-state relationship has been in flux (change) ever since, and has constantly been a source of tension. 
•    Right from the start of the union the Bill of Rights appeared to establish what Ashbee calls “national rights” and thus the likelihood that the federal government would grow in power over time in order to enforce them. 
•    Dual Federalism (1780s-1920s): An era in which state governments had significant power. 
•    This view of federalism fits in with Grodzins layer cake theory, where the separation of state roles and federal roles appeared fairly clear.
•    Cooperative Federalism: (1930s-1960s): An era in which the federal government became increasingly powerful.
•    Grodzin described this as the marble cake period, when state and federal responsibilities became meshed together.  
•    This period is associated with Roosevelt (the New Deal to fund social programmes that bankrupt states could not afford)… 
•    and Johnson (The Great Society).  
•    Cooperative federalism is associated with categorical grants, which involved aid being given to states with strings attached.
•    It is also associated with federal attempts to promote civil rights and forcing southern states to desegregate.  
•    New Federalism: an era in which power was devolved back to the states.
•    Categorical grants gave way to block grants, where states would be given discretion (more of a say) in how federal funds were spent.
•    Reagan said that “government was not the solution to the problem – government was the problem”.
•    Clinton declared that the “era of big government was over.”
•    This era coincided with widespread distrust of Washington after the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. 
•    The Supreme Court also began ruling in favour of states in such cases as United States V Lopez (1995), Printz V United States (1997), and the Webster and and Planned Parenthood cases of the late 1980s. 
•    Federal funding for state programmes was slashed, as conservatives became increasingly sceptical of federal social programmes such as the New Deal. 
•    In the 1990s, many states ran large budget surpluses, enabling them to take more initiatives without federal help. 
•    Wisconsin pioneered a school vouchers programme while New York introduced Zero tolerance policing, a strategy that involved putting a large police presence in crime-ridden areas. Texas, meanwhile, adopted a different policing strategy – harsh penalties for criminals and assertive use of the death penalty. One in ten of the US prison population can be found in this state.  
•    But this era only went so far in reversing the long-term trend of centralisation. 
•    Even Reagan, who was a champion of “states rights”, approved categorical grants. 
•    He withdrew highway construction funds from states that refused to increase the drinking age to 21. 
•    States simply could not afford to take over expensive programmes such as food stamps (a federally run programme for the poor).
•    Some have called this era “coercive federalism”, which indicates that the federal government still largely called the shots. 

How did the Bush administration centralised power? 

•    9/11 saw the passing of the Patriot Act, which allowed the federal government to implement a domestic spying operation. 
•    The newly created Department of Homeland Security usurped the power of state authorities in all manner of areas, from port security to standards for scanning machines at airports. 
•    The economic downturn curtailed (affected) the states’ ability to fund social programmes. When Clinton left office, state governments had built up a surplus of $47 billion. After the .com bubble burst, 31 states were forced to cut spending and eighteen raised taxes to pay for the budget deficits. 
•    There has been an increase in federal mandates (laws that require states to implement a new policy) yet these mandates have not been accompanied by adequate federal funding. 
•    The No Child Left Behind Act created for the first time national teaching standards that all schools in all states were obliged to implement. Uniform, nationwide testing was also introduced. The bill for these changes has largely been footed by the states, further threatening their budgets. 
•    The Help America Vote Act imposed national standards on improving access to people with disabilities but yet again the programme was under-funded at the federal level.  
•    The Bush administration also went on a spending spree: The 2002 Farm Act provided $82 billion in support to agriculture over ten years. In January 2004, Bush promised to send astronauts to the Moon and to Mars, at an initial cost of $15 billion. The Highways Act cost $286 billion over five years, which provided pork-laden funds to “bridges to nowhere”. 
•    The moral agenda pursued by Republicans has nationalised laws in areas previously seen as state issues – such as restrictions placed on late term abortions.
•    The Supreme Court has also jumped aboard this moral agenda, restricting the scope of affirmative action. 
•    In other areas, however, the court has not followed this moral agenda but has still restricted state autonomy. 
•    In Texas V Lawrence 2003, it ruled that Texas state laws banning homosexual acts were unconstitutional. The court has also restricted use of the death penalty, another area previously viewed with state competence. 


•    The Affordable Care Act mandated that states provide insurance exchanges for people to be able to buy healthcare. 
•    Obama’s 2009 stimulus package demonstrated how reliant the states were on the federal government for funding, although not all states accepted the money. 

However, the US is far from becoming a unitary state

•    The Supreme Court has ruled elements of the Patriot Act unconstitutional.
•    The Federal government has turned record budget surpluses into record deficits, which has hindered its own room for manoeuvre. 
•    The states rebelled against the Bush administration’s intransigence (lack of action) by forging ahead on expanding health insurance programmes to cover children and on limiting carbon emissions. 
•    Obama has said he would scrap No Child Left Behind (hasn’t done so yet though).
•    The various initiatives and referendums in 2010 mid-terms show that states still control much of the moral agenda, especially on gay rights and on legalising marijuana. 
•    Republicans turned against Bush and then Obama for his centralising tendencies and adopted the Tea Party’s ideological call for “limited government”.
•    While the Federal-State relationship has been one of increasing centralisation, states retain a good degree of autonomy – far more than regions in the UK. 
•    It is a relationship which changes over time and depends on a number of factors: 

What the federal-state relationship depends on

•    United or divided government: Gridlock between the president and Congress over environmental policy resulted in California going ahead with carbon emissions cuts.
•    The Constitution: Powers not designated (given to) a specific tier (layer) of government are fought over more than clearly defined powers (such as the president’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces).
•    The issue: 
•    The Federal government has a much greater say in foreign affairs while the states have taken the lead on gay marriage. It is legal is some states but not in others. 
•    In addition, workers pay has become an issue for both federal (raising the minimum wage) and state government (tax breaks for ethical firms).
•    Economy: 
•    The Great Depression required the Federal government intervention.
•    Budget surpluses in the 90s led to states becoming less reliant on federal grants.
•    States require federal funding for Homeland Security projects such as Port searches.
•    Obama came to office during the credit crunch, requiring an unprecedented bailout of banks and states. 
•    His stimulus package has seen the federal government taking an active role in trying to reverse the recession. States have had limited ability or resources to do this. 
•    Political culture:
•    Rooselvelt saw the federal government as the solution to the Great Depression. 
•    Clinton declared that “The era of big government is over.”
•    Republicans in the ’90s favoured states rights.
•    Bush Jnr favoured a strong presidency with broad powers. 
•    See above comments on the Tea Party.
•    Events: 
•    9/11 led to focus on national security and on foreign affairs. 
•    It led the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, yet another federal government department. 
•    Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the federal government’s incapacity to deal with all crisis.
•    Hurricane-prone states may develop their own plans in case of similar emergencies. 
•    The credit crunch involved banks that operate across state lines, and therefore required a response from the federal, rather than state level. 


Is UK democracy working as it is supposed to?

How does a government become legitimate?