Recently I saw Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma promote his book Waste Book on CSPAN2. Coburn spoke of the corrupt and counterproductive procedures of Congress. Besides being financially wasteful, he said, the federal government is too large.
Coburn proposes a return to the Jeffersonian model of a substantially limited federal government. He cites Jefferson as saying that the federal government has no place in such matters as education.
I do not agree with Jefferson. The Civil War profoundly changed federalism. The states had collectively shown they could not end slavery or protect human rights. It became the job of the federal government, during and in the immediate years after the War, to resolve these issues.
Nor have the states in recent decades shown that they could satisfactorily handle some vital issues. It took the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision and President Eisenhower’s subsequent deployment of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas to end segregation. Even now, the states are unable to implement effective gun control measures.
This is not to say that the federal government is by nature better than state or local government. As there is a system of checks and balances among the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government, there should also be checks and balances between the federal and state governments.
The federal government properly retains exclusive control on such matters as the postal service and foreign relations. But on issues such as education and the environment, the federal government should compete with the states for achieving solutions. The public would be best served by a friendly competition between the two.
This competition can only be realized through a change in the balance of taxation. As Coburn points out, the federal government receives astronomically more tax monies than the state governments. And as Coburn also points out, the federal government is extremely wasteful. We may argue about whether defense, education, healthcare or public television should be cut, but these arguments do not address the main fat in the federal budget. For these glutted areas are most often kept from public view.
Out of its vast wealth, the federal government gives monies to the state governments. Through such gifting powers, the feds habitually dictate to the states decisions involving such matters as public roads. It should be the state and local governments that decide many of these matters.
Because of wasteful federal policies, necessary money does not reach such areas as mental health or infrastructure. In New York State, where I live, the bridges have long been in a dangerous state of disrepair. Yet the state government complains that it lacks the money for these projects.
A proper balance of power can only be achieved through a reallocation of tax monies. With a larger share of the tax monies, state governments would be able to direct the funds to needed areas. And the states would again have autonomy in matters that they have more direct knowledge on than Washington.