The decay of federalism

Within my own lifetime of several decades, I can remember a time when there was wide agreement among citizens of this country about issues that affected nearly everybody. Nowadays, there appears be less consensus than ever.

Since shared visions about the right way to behave to do things are more difficult to ascertain, the political system is infused with more pressure to compel people to do, or not do, a whole host of things based on whatever particular group of people are in power at that moment feel is correct.

I have always believed that state and local governments were great and necessary features of our system, and that experimentation by states was critical to finding appropriate government solutions where government was necessary.  But in my youth, we didn’t turn to government to determine things like whether a podiatrist or an orthopedic surgeon would be allowed to operate on a human ankle.  We left those judgments to the professional societies.

Some years ago, the states were told by the Congress that they were going to lose federal highway money if they didn’t post a 55 mph speed limit. A couple of years after that, the funding was made contingent on whether they changed their drunk driving laws to a .08 blood alcohol content standard.

These seemed like terrific ideas to some people, maybe even most people. But the current trend, exemplified by the beverage ordinance in New York City, should give us pause about how much government we want in our lives. More to the point here, what level of government should handle what kinds of control over our behavior.

Health care, because it is so laced with emotion, is possibly a poor example to choose for a general federalism discussion. But the fact remains that the decision on the Affordable Care Act yesterday has essentially ended any experimentation on health care policy by the states in ways that are not acceptable to Washington, D.C, essentially affirming a federal government coup. (Wisconsin, by the way, already had a state law that allowed parents to keep their children covered on the parents’ health insurance policies until they reached the age of 28.) The feds, not even able to pass a budget  in many years, have taken over.

And they trying do the same thing in energy policy. Because the people in charge of the current administration are from Fantasyland when it comes to these foundations of the U.S. economy, the trend to let Washington put eveything in one box so they can fix it should keep us up nights.

The one bright spot for conservatives in yesterday’s decision was noted by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who told the Huffington Post this morning: “I do worry in the future about the court’s limiting the Commerce Clause as a way of limiting the ability of the federal government to help average families.”

The 5-4 decision authored by Chief Justice John Roberts has kept the government, for the time being, from telling us we have to eat broccoli.  But they will certainly keep trying, and have been steadily eroding the protections afforded by the Tenth Amendment to the states and to the people. So when mistakes happen, they will happen to the whole country.  As the expression goes, “If you are in the market, everything that happens…happens to you.”

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