Pacete: A federalist talking on federalism

THE Christmas shopping rush gave me an opportunity to meet a new friend. The retired national correspondent of the “Atlantic” has a “wife” and a house in one of the first-rate subdivisions in Negros. He was waiting for his bedfellow in a coffee shop doing a five-hour shopping inside the mall.

That was his third cup of coffee when I joined him in his table after I saw one vacant chair. I introduced myself so that we can start a conversation. He is Steve Goldberg and in his late 70’s. Our roller coaster conversation started from “taming a wife” to China’s intervention in the South China (our West Philippine Sea) up to federalism.

I motivated him to talk more about federalism, being an American. His story telling made me interested. He said that the relative strength of the national government versus state and local governments has constantly changed over the course of American history. From 1787-1913, there was “dual federalism” in America.

The national government concentrated its attention on the “delegated” powers… national defense, foreign affairs, tariffs, commerce crossing state lines, coining money, establishing standard weights and measures, maintaining a post office and building post roads, and administering new states. State governments decided the important domestic policy issues: slavery (until the civil war), education, welfare, health, and criminal justice.

The Industrial Revolution, the challenge of two world wars, and the Great Depression paved the way for “cooperative federalism” (1913-1964). Both the nation and the states exercised responsibilities for welfare, health, highways, education, and criminal justice. Through the grant-in-aid device, the national government cooperated with the states in public assistance, employment services, child welfare, public housing, urban renewal, highway building, and vocational education,

“Centralized federalism” came to the picture from 1964 up to 1980. President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the “Great Society” in 1964 and the federal government has its own goals. In here, we have the model of federalism in which the national government assumes primary responsibility for determining national goals in all major policy areas and directs state and local government activity through conditions attached to money grants.

The “new federalism” (1980-1985) originated in the administration of President Richard Nixon who used to describe general revenue sharing… federal sharing of tax revenues with state and local governments with few strings attached. This kind of federalism was also used by President Ronald Reagan in his series of proposals designed to reduce federal involvement in domestic programs and encourages states and cities to undertake greater policy responsibilities.

This “new federalism” also temporarily lessened the dependence of state and local governments on federal money. Federal grants rose to over one-quarter of all state-local expenditures in 1980. The result was a decline in state-local dependence on federal money to less than 20 percent.

There was “representational federalism” from 1985-1996. This has a notion that federalism is defined by the role of the states in electing members of Congress and the president rather that any constitutional division of powers. The United States is said to retain a federal system because national officials are selected from sub-units of government.

“Coercive federalism” existed from 1997 up to 2010. State governments were viewed as independent authorities that could be directly coerced by the national government in their traditional functions. The federal government has continued centralizing and nationalizing policy in major areas formerly controlled by the states and localities through use of “mandates” and “preemptions.”

There are “mandates” when in federal-state relations, the federal government’s orders to state (or local) governments to provide particular services or perform specific services. “Preemptions” happen when there is the federal government’s assumption of regulatory powers in a particular field to the partial or full exclusion of state powers.

From 2011 up the present time, USA has adopted “bottom-up federalism.” This is characterized by a state having to address pressing fiscal and social issues without federal assistance as well as state and local pushbacks against federal policy. You see, America does not learn federalism overnight. We have our ups and downs until now. It is very, very complicated.

His “young wife” arrived and suggested they have to go to the other wing for more shopping. Steve looked at me and my loaded pocket notebook from his lecture. He whispered to me, “My wife really needs taming.”
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