What’s So Bad About It?
Historically and philosophically, the federal government was a creation of the states, not the reverse. The term “federal” derives from the confederation of states that existed under the Articles of Confederation, which were replaced by the Constitution. A federal government was overwhelmingly preferred to a “national” government, which would have its own character and presence distinct from the states, rather than a creation of them. The intended structure was to be a power sharing between the federal and state levels of government, with the bulk of power reserved to the latter.
The full name of our country clearly states the intent of the Founders – we are the United States of America. It is the union of the states from which the whole of the country derives. Each of our states has its own constitution, and is guaranteed a republican form of government by the federal Constitution. The Constitution originally provided for election of U.S. Senators by the respective state legislatures. Each of these provisions was designed to preserve and strengthen the role of state government.
To further limit the federal role and protect that of the states and the citizens, the 9th Amendment provided that: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others, retained by the people.” The 10th Amendment then explicitly reserved to the states, or the people, those powers not EXPRESSLY delegated to the federal government. Clearly, the role of the federal government was to be express and limited.
One of the concepts of state government was the preservation of numerous individual “laboratories” for government and society. It is presumptuous to think that ONE federal government is more capable of producing necessary, efficient and effective programs for governing than FIFTY state “laboratories.” History has affirmed that fact. Virtually every federal foray into perceived needs and functions of government have been failures, with the exception of the U.S. Military, and even that is bloated with economic mismanagement. Social Security – failure; health care – failure; education – failure; war on drugs – failure; immigration – failure; welfare systems including food stamps – failure. The list is long, and virtually complete.
At the time of the thirteen colonies, Washington, D.C. was relatively central and proximate to all the people. By todays travel standards, virtually of the states would be within a reasonable 1-day drive. If the federal capital were located centrally today, it would be in Lebanon, Kansas. By population, it would lie near the confluence of Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. Neither of these locations, however, would provide accessibility to government by the people as effectively as individual state capitals. The fact is, Washington, D.C. is both physically and conceptually distant to the vast majority of Americans.
The federal government has, over 230 years, steadily concentrated more and more power within its grasp. The physical concentration of power is evident in the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Pentagon - all in D.C.. But even more than the physical concentration, is the power implicit in federal law, departments, agencies and control over the people. While states maintain many comparable powers in appearance, in fact, there is nothing at the state level that compares to the IRS, FBI, NSA or any other hub of federal power.
Many Members of Congress have held seats for 30, 40, 50 years and longer. Despite widespread disapproval of congress (8% approval rating), members are regularly re-elected at a rate of about 90%. In no other facet of American life are losers allowed to win in such lopsided fashion. Knowing they are insulated from removal once they enter the sanctum of federal politics confers a sense of immunity. Worse, it confers a sense of royalty. Those in the federal government, elected, appointed, or employed in the vast bureaucracy, are imbued with a sense of self-importance that further distances them from “regular” people. They are paid handsomely, with perks and benefits reserved for royalty or celebrity; they are chauffeured about in limousines (when not flying first class or on private jets); they “work” about half the year; and they regularly exempt themselves from laws they apply to others.
Among groups that especially appreciate the concentration of power of the federal government are lobbyists, consultants and government contractors. In fact, the passing from government employment to special interest is blurred. What a boon to have all the palms being greased in one location, close to the toney restaurants of Georgetown, and away from the nosy inquiries of distant citizens. The further concentration of corporate, union and other special interest power among the few makes it easier for the politicians to receive contributions to boot. It’s all a very happy arrangement – for the ruling class, the sycophants that feed them, and the bureaucrats that live large off of them. In fact, it works perfectly for everyone – except ordinary citizens.
Washington’s cabinet consisted of Secretaries of State, Treasury and War, and the Attorney General. Today’s cabinet consists of fifteen departments, supporting huge bureaucracies. The number of federal employees is so large, in fact, that no one really knows what it is. It appears to be upward of 2 million, however, excluding military. It has grown to that gargantuan number because the federal government has regularly added functions and departments DESPITE the limitations of the 10th Amendment that require it to be specific and limited. The “core competencies” of a business are those things that it does of necessity, that it does well, and that it does profitably. General Electric recently announced the sale of its consumer appliance operations to return to its core competencies. When is the last time the federal government shed ANYTHING.
There is much that needs to be done to return to a true federal system of government, that is, the one contemplated by and spelled out in the Constitution. A good start would be the following:
Reduce Cabinet Size
Abolish the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy and Education. Merge the VA into the Department of Defense. Task Department of the Interior with all coordination between the federal government and the states on matters affecting them, including environment and security. Break up the Department of Homeland Security, and abolish the NDAA (Patriot’s Act) and return the privacy and security of citizens in their “person’s, property and papers.” Allow the states to decide whether or not to adopt the functions shed by the federal government. Reduce the federal budget and taxation accordingly, preferably abolishing the 16th Amendment and the IRS along with it.
Reduce Federal Agencies
In addition to the Cabinet, there are hundreds of federal departments and agencies. Many of these would go away with the cabinet departments under which they are structured. The rest need to be reviewed and largely consolidated or abolished as well.
The creation of federal law is the driving force behind the expansion of the federal government. Allow the introduction of new laws only in alternate legislative sessions. In other sessions, restrict activity to reduction, consolidation or clarification of existing laws. Require that all laws include: financial impact, with mandatory review in the second and fifth year; sunset provision in the 2nd and 5th year unless expressly renewed; identification of the constitutional authority for the law; limiting the size and complexity of laws; requiring a minimum 30-day public comment period for all laws (posted on the Internet); and permitting no unfunded liability to the states.
Repeal the 17th Amendment
Return the election of U.S. Senators to the state legislatures. Senators are representatives of the states to the U.S. Senate; their primary allegiance is to their states, not to the federal government.
Base Members of Congress in Home States
With today’s communication technology, there is no need to hold anything but occasional ceremonial meetings of the Congress in the Capital. Virtually all business could be conducted in offices based in the state capitals, with greater visibility of lobbyists coming and going, greater access to the people they serve, and protection from attack by dispersing them around the country instead of concentrated in one location.
Restrict Power In and Out of Office
Require meeting calendars (name, organization, length of meeting, subject) and financial contributions, monetary or in kind, over $100 to be identified and posted on the Internet in a consolidated access point. Prohibit lobbying, consulting, or any other activity for pecuniary gain resulting from actions or contacts while in office, for a period of 5-years after leaving office (applies to elected or appointed officials and federal employees).
The president, vice-president, most governors and state and local elected officials are subject to limited terms in office. Congress and the Supreme Court should be no exception. Members of Congress should be limited to 3 terms in the House, 2 terms in the Senate, or 12 years in total. Members of the Supreme Court should be limited to a 10-year term, with possible reappointment by Congress for a second term of equal length. All federal officers should be subject to recall and removal by action of 2/3 of the state legislatures.