Not all unintended consequences are bad. One consequence of the election of President Donald Trump is that blue states and progressives find themselves keenly interested in the age-old debate about federalism.
But as one writer noted for Vox.com in 2016, “it doesn’t have to be your father’s (or grandfather’s) federalism.”
Whether it’s your father’s federalism or not, welcome back. There’s plenty of common ground here between progressives and conservatives, at least as far as individual states can amicably agree to disagree. Or more specifically, agreeing that states should be free to seek their own solutions to the problems that plague us all.
For years, the left has leveraged the power of the federal government — often through the courts — to enact broad societal change. Progressives weren’t interested in academic debates over federalism — the proper balance between state powers and federal powers. They just wanted to put their policies in place.
But now that the White House is occupied by someone with a very different agenda, they’re flipping through the Federalist Papers and reading about the great compromise that allowed our Constitution to come into being.
Here’s an example — marijuana policy. Again, it’s an area where many on the left and right disagree, but where the left has rediscovered that state boundary lines mean something. While more and more states are legalizing pot, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule I drug — completely illegal.
Last year, Conor Friedersdorf wrote in a passionate piece in The Atlantic, “Congress must repeal federal statutes, returning marijuana policy and regulation to the states where it belongs.”
His call for Congress to restore power to the states wasn’t unique. We’re seeing similar efforts in the realm of health care, with some states trying out their own single-payer programs.
Unimpressed with the Affordable Care Act (which they felt didn’t go far enough), some states, including Vermont and California, looked at doing some form of Medicare-for-All by themselves.
Although they found, as Lauren Clasen writes in Roll Call, that “The hurdles for a government-run, single-payer health care system are amplified at the state level, where universal coverage ambitions are hampered by politics, costs and federal restrictions,” they haven’t given up.
Nor should they. Louisiana, for its part, is moving ahead with its own more market-based Obamacare alternatives. Should the 30-state lawsuit seeking to declare the ACA unconstitutional prevail, Louisiana’s alternative could go into effect immediately.
Empowering states to experiment with these policies — and many others — is exactly the approach we should take.
Most decisions, in fact, ought to be made at the state and local levels, closer to where we all live.
And that’s not an opinion — it’s the Constitution.
The “balance” between the powers exercised by the states and those exercised by the federal government, mentioned earlier, is simply a colloquialism to which we’ve all grown accustomed and one which has no basis in the Union’s foundational, governing charter. In Federalist Paper No. 45, James Madison explained the imbalance of state and federal authority baked into the framers’ “plan of the Convention.” In his essay entitled “The Alleged Danger From the Powers of the Union to the State Governments Considered,” Madison declared, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”
That’s the thinking behind the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s new States Trust initiative. Like the Founders of this great Union, TPPF understands that states play a vital role in our Republic. TPPF’s new project will advocate for policies that respect the vision of the Founders for a government that is federal — in which government power is broadly distributed.
That puts us in agreement with folks like former Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, who felt that states should have a bigger say in health care. We might not agree on the specifics of the plan or on other policies — TPPF wants to see more market-driven reforms and more freedom for families — but we definitely agree that not every good idea comes from (or is mandated by) Washington.
Education is a great example. President Jimmy Carter moved to nationalize K-12 with his Department of Education, but it has achieved little; test scores have remained essentially flat in the 40 years since its creation.
Progressives may see their states’ rights approach as something new; it’s not. In fact, it was the progressive movement that obscured the states’ role in our republic for a time.
They’re seeing things more clearly now; more power to them. More power to the states, that is.