Liberal federalism: A new twist on federal-state relationships

Traditionally, it has been Republicans and conservatives who have complained about an overbearing and all-powerful federal government.

They have wanted to devolve power to states and local governments. Let the locals have more flexibility and freedom. Let there be diversity in the country, and let citizens choose where they live and vacation accordingly.

Today, however, the tables have turned. Under the Trump administration, it is liberals and Democrats who are chafing at what the federal government does (or doesn’t do), and they are looking to states and local governments to fulfill their liberal desires.

For example, states like Maryland are planning to make up funds for Planned Parenthood if Congress cuts funding. That’s great. That’s exactly what should be happening. Funding Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be a federal government responsibility. If states or local governments want to do it, more power to them. That’s federalism in action.

Some states and local government leaders are angry that Pres. Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord. So they say they will continue to abide by the guidelines and goals of the accord, even without the support or direction of the federal government. Again, that’s just fine. In the spirit of federalism, it makes sense for state and local governments to do as they wish. Their own voters and citizens can determine, though their elected officials, their own policies. 

Additionally, some liberal states and local governments don’t like current federal policy on immigration and the crackdown on people living in the country illegally. So they are taking things into their own hands by creating sanctuaries and trying to protect immigrants.

I have no problem with that, unless they violate federal law. If they clearly violate federal law, they should lose federal funding. Liberals have been playing that game for decades, so they shouldn’t squawk when conservatives impose the same penalty for violating federal law.

One reason the federal government has become so dominant is that it bribes states and local government with funding, and it threatens to take that funding away if the locals don’t do what the federal government wants.

For example, federal funding for schools, transportation, and to clean up the environment have always come with strings attached. If you don’t do what the federal government wants, you lose your funding. If you don’t meet environmental standards, you might lose your transportation funding.

So it’s consistent with long-standing federal government practices for the Trump administration to threaten sanctuary cities with loss of federal funds if they violate federal law.

With regard to the federal-state relationship, one thing states and local governments ought to get used to is this: there is going to be less federal money available. The federal government is flat broke. I used to say that the states could take over a lot of things the federal government is doing if the feds would leave a decent portion of federal tax revenue at the state level.

Today’s reality is that states and local governments are going to get stuck with more to do, but the money will not follow. If Congress has any hope of getting the federal budget under control, of slowing deficit spending, then they aren’t going to send a lot of money to the states. Get used to it.