Federalism

Do Conservatives Still Care About Federalism Now That Republicans Run the Federal Government?

After years of using cries of "federalism!" to challenge the Obama administration, the tone, predictably, has shifted to one of cooperation and opportunity.

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Eric Boehm/Reason

For much of the past eight years, Republican governors argued in favor of giving states more control over policy-making, at least partially as a political strategy to oppose the Obama administration.

Along that road to federalism, though, a funny thing happened. Republicans won majorities in the U.S. House, then the Senate, and now control the White House.

Against that backdrop, is federalism still en vogue for Republicans?

The four GOP governors—Arizona's Doug Ducey, Kansas' Sam Brownback, Kentucky's Mett Bevin, and Wisconsin's Scott Walker—who addressed a crowd of mostly conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday morning made the case that it is.

But the tone, predictably, has shifted from one of rebellion and opposition, to one of cooperation and opportunity.

"We may not get the same opportunity ever again, we can't squander it," said Ducey, referring to Republican control of not only Congress and the presidency, but to the historic levels of GOP control in state capitols from coast to coast.

"I am thrilled with this cabinet that president Trump has appointed," he said. "And even more so that there is a former governor, who can understand what red tape can do at the state level, in Mike Pence as vice president."

While all four governors offered praise for President Donald Trump's cabinet selections in general, each also singled out the appointment of Betsy DeVos to head the federal Department of Education, something they said could usher significant reforms to how school policy is handled. Devos has been an outspoken advocate for school choice and charter schools, and became a lightning rod for criticism from teachers' unions during her confirmation hearings.

"I called Betsy Devos and I said 'been there, done that,'" said Walker, recalling fondly his clashes with public sector unions and progressive protestors in Wisconsin after the passage of a law in 2011 that stripped many public workers of their collective bargaining privileges. The Occupy movement, Walker said, didn't really start on Wall Street, "but on my streets" in Madison, Wisconsin.

Walker also praised Trump's selection of Scott Pruitt as the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and argued that states should play a bigger role in setting environmental policy.

"My hope would be that this Congress would work with the president and the administration to reorganize—and not just reorganize the existing structures, but send more of it back to the states," Walker said. "The EPA, in my opinion, states can do that better. Let states handle that."

Bevin, of Kentucky, compared the EPA to Frankenstein's monster—both were created with noble intentions, but have turned on their creators, he offered—and echoed Walker's call to let the states handle environmental policy on their own.

"Nobody wants you to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air. There's not a state, Democratic or Republican alike, that could not manage this and would not be incentivized to manage this at the state level," he said.

Local control of government policy is no guarantee of liberty, of course, and any appeal to federalism made by the chief executive of a state government is necessarily, on some level, self-serving. Governors have a strong incentive to push back against the federal government to let them make more decisions,

Still, as Ducey pointed out on Thursday, there's an element of competition that exists between states but is absent at the federal level. States that make good policy choices can attract businesses and people, while one-size-fits-all federal policy is rarely good (or bad) for everyone.

It's a point that Walker—fresh off an unsuccessful presidential run and gearing up for a likely re-election campaign in Wisconsin in 2018—illustrated with a move that smacked of a campaign stump speech. Pulling a dollar out of his pocket, and asking the assembled crowd to do the same, he asked whether they would "rather send it to Washington, where you get pennies on the dollar back, or would you rather keep it back in your local community and your states, where you can fix your roads and your bridges?"

The choice to keep the dollar in one's own pocket, notably, was not given.

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  1. Well, they always were a little selective with their federalism no matter who is occupies the White House.

  2. Politics is mainly rooting for a sports team but 365 days a year

  3. The choice to keep the dollar in one’s own pocket, notably, was not given.

    Once again libertarians shilling for Big Pocket. Everyone knows you’re in the pocket of the Pocket Industry, just admit it!

    1. That’s a pretty farthing stretch you got going there.

    2. Don’t pound your argument too much. It’s a sterling thought, for which i will pay you a pence.

      1. I dunno, I think he’s gone a little rupee.

  4. Short answer: Nope

    1. Except that the article doesn’t say that.

      1. Or rather, much like missing the point about putting the dollar back in the pocket. Elides the point of For/Against Federalism by not exactly inventing a straw man about voluntary bad federalism and then does a weak job of tearing it apart.

      2. The article and the headline are a bit incongruent.

        1. I kinda hope it was a joke or a play to turn the “Nope. Next question.” trope on it’s head.

    2. Yeah, I looked back at the last time the GOP had total control of the house and senate under Bush, and it didn’t end well then either. I can hardly think of a more wasted opportunity to completely reform the tax code and cut government. I have zero hope with this administration and Congress. Hand it to the Democrats, though – – they had two short years of total control of the Capitol under Obama’s first two years, and they got full liberal agenda through in a hurry.

  5. Do Conservatives Still Care About Federalism Now That Republicans Run the Federal Government?

    Did they ever really care before, or was it just a convenient club?

    I wonder if the Progressives will start (pretending to) care about war now?

    1. The more I observe partisanship from the outside, the more I am convinced that the only thing either side truly believes is that they should be in charge.

      1. Well ya. I prefer no one in charge

      2. And hating the other side.

      3. I say the problem with politics today is the sophist approach to principles and beliefs. It’s not about what is being done, it’s about who gets to do it. Teams find it more important to ignore their own transgression, and only hold the other team accountable. To hold your team accountable is to benefit the other team, so it’s important to them to ignore their team’s transgressions.

        Politics would be much better if parties would cleanup their own back yard before trying to clean up someone else’s.

        I’m having fun with liberals by asking if it’s lawful for SoS Tillerson to setup a email server in his own home and use it for classified information.

    2. You and the author are equating “Conservatives” and Congressional “Republicans”. A Venn Diagram would show very little overlap between the two groups. Rand Paul is one of very few notable exceptions.

      1. ^^^^THIS^^^^

        The problem is that both team blue and team red top men want big government and the power that and a massive regulatory state gives them. Occasionally some conservative makes it there, but they are either quickly corrupted by the system, or quickly kicked out.

        It’s a den of thieves, and knaves.

  6. Let’s see the pee-pee issue was just handed back to states and the EPA’s orders imposing rules throughout the country are already being rescinded through a Congressional bill.

    Seems like they still care about federalism, at least a little. And frankly all these things would actually qualify as a ‘libertarian moment’, since they would be eliminating an overreach by Laviathan.

    1. Seems like they still care about federalism, at least a little.

      Well, possibly.

      If the reasons are because they genuinely think these issues should be decided at the state/local level, then yes.

      But, if the reasons are because they don’t like Obama’s policies and want to substitute their own policies, then no.

      1. But, if the reasons are because they don’t like Obama’s policies and want to substitute their own policies, then no.

        Oh! That kind of libertarianism. Good luck with the Johnson/Weld ticket.

        1. What do you mean?

          If they are rescinding federal policies, just so they can replace them with their own federal policies, then I wouldn’t consider that to be exactly pro-federalism.

          1. Last time I checked my Constitution Four governors could do precisely squat to enact federal legislation.

            Four governors calling for the President and Congress to dismantle Federal Agencies and relegate those responsibilities to the states is practically definitively federalism.

            The only way you read the article and think “Aha! Those two-timing backstabbers! They’re gonna destroy federalism” is if the words ‘Four GOP Governors’ gives you the vapors.

            I mean, four governors favoring high speed rail, minimum wage laws, or soda bans, etc didn’t herald the end of federal democracy and, IIRC, reason never framed the situation as such.

            1. I was not referring to the Four Governor’s comments. I was referring to WakaWaka’s assertions about “the pee-pee issue was just handed back to states and the EPA’s orders imposing rules throughout the country are already being rescinded through a Congressional bill”. If THESE things are being changed because DC Republicans really want states handling these issues, then that’s great. But if these things are being changed because DC Republicans would rather substitute their own set of federal policies, then that’s not federalism. That is my point.

              1. But if these things are being changed because DC Republicans would rather substitute their own set of federal policies, then that’s not federalism. That is my point.

                Then you have no point because those things aren’t occurring. Or if you do have a point, it’s gone completely unstated. I understand waiting for the other shoe to drop, but absent any actual points about bathroom orders being switched to conservative orders, it’s a bit of blaming them for having two shoes.

                Did they loose some bathroom policies in order to tighten others? Or loosen some EPA standards to tighten others? Blaming them for loosening standards because other unnamed shoes may or may not drop is how you alienate your voter base and end up with fewer electoral votes than a more real libertarian who didn’t even run.

                1. But Republicans quite honestly have a track record of lying about their supposed fealty to federalism. They’ll say they want to get government out of the picture, until it’s domestic spying or Terri Schiavo or intrusive immigration regulations or the drug war.

                  How is it a smart political strategy for any libertarian to say “you can take Republicans at their word and ignore their history”?

                  1. How is it a smart political strategy for any libertarian to say “you can take Republicans at their word and ignore their history”?

                    But it’s not their word. They’re actually loosening the reins on federal policies. Moreover, they’re doing it (at least for the EPA and the bathroom issue) rather by the book and, unless you’ve heard something different, there aren’t exactly plans in the works or on the horizon to replace them.

                    This libertarian reaction is like Stockholm Syndrome or something.

          2. What do you mean?

            See Snort’s open letter below.

            Dear Mr. Walker,

            Shut the hell up and stay on the Federal dote.

            Thanks,
            Libertarians

    2. Yeah, the article almost reads like a Shikha piece whereby Federalism is some twisted definition of the President signing UN mandates and Congress ratifying them and is a presumed good.

      Do Conservatives Still Care About Federalism Now That Republicans Run the Federal Government?

      My hope would be that this Congress would work with the president and the administration to reorganize?and not just reorganize the existing structures, but send more of it back to the states,” Walker said. “The EPA, in my opinion, states can do that better. Let states handle that.

      So (Setting aside CA’s Nota Bien about never having really cared in the first place.)… that would be a yes, right? I don’t mean to seem like a Team Red! Stooge, but what’s the bad side and what’s the preferred outcome? Should our congress-critters be storming the EPA by force and burning the buildings to the ground? Should they just ignore EPA regulations and openly dump raw sewage into water supplies? I understand they aren’t championing the individual at every turn, but that’s not what Federalism is.

      1. Agreed. Not much of an argument offered.

    3. Yeah, and after Windsor v United States, suddenly Conservatives/Republicans were all about “leave it to the States”.

      Face it, the most common time for Conservatives/Republicans to discover federalism is when they *lose* at the federal level. That doesn’t show an interest in federalism, it shows an interest in “whatever way will promote our agenda”.

      Which isn’t unique to them, but you shouldn’t confuse it with principled support.

  7. Short answer: no

    1. Ha, bartzman beat me to it

    2. Read the comments dude, you’re dangerously close to copying my comment IP! 😉

  8. I, for one, would relish some Obama news instead of all this trump stuff.

    Has his golf game improved?

    Do the bookies have any odds on a divorce soon? The kids are almost at the empty nest stage.

    Speaking of the kids, are they going to follow in Chelsea’s footsteps?

    Speaking of Chelsea, has Hillary’s upset loss chilled her chances for President? Or will the wait for her to turn 35 be distance enough?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    1. Speaking of Chelsea, has Hillary’s upset loss chilled her chances for President? Or will the wait for her to turn 35 be distance enough?

      Chelsea Clinton is already over 35 (in fact, she would technically have been eligible to run last year — born February 27, 1980, according to Wikipedia).

      1. How time flies!

      2. That kid is s spitting image of her dad, Janet Reno.

        1. Beautiful comment. 10/10 would laugh out loud at work again and get weird looks

  9. “Nobody wants you to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air. There’s not a state, Democratic or Republican alike, that could not manage this and would not be incentivized to manage this at the state level,” he said.

    I can think of one state that couldn’t manage it, but that happened despite, and to some degree because of, federal involvement.

    1. Any Appalachian “coal country” state is OK with dirty water.

    2. Katrina and Flint were both failures at both the state and federal level. The bridge collapse in Minnesota, coal mine explosions and the Massachusetts Compounding Pharmacy (steroid tainted with fungal meningitis) were all examples of state government failures. I’m certainly not a fan of overreaching or big government, but when it comes to specifically to safety and health, I don’t know that the states can always Dow better job. State governments are no more efficient, attentive or less corrupt than the federal government. Not everything is done more efficiently at local levels.

  10. A quick search found an article in “The Atlantic” showing Wisconsin gets back about $1.75 for every one of those dollars sent to the federal government, so here goes.

    A letter to Scott Walker and Wisconsin: You don’t want to send your dollar to the federal government? Fine. Keep your dollar. But don’t expect other taxpayers from the other 49 states to squander our hard earned dollars on you. Don’t expect the other 49 states FBI to help solve you crimes. Don’t expect the other 49 states military to protect you. Don’t whine when adjacent states set up toll booths at state lines to help pay for the damage caused your freeloaders to their roads. Oh, and and the other 49 states will keep the other 75 cents we would have sent you.

    1. This whole “$X back for $X in” type of analysis is bullshit. Because it includes every dollar, regardless of whether the state government has any control over it or not. For example it includes Social Security dollars and spending on military installations in the state. The state government has no power over how much SS money individual beneficiaries in its state receive, and has very little power over military bases in the state. Now I think it is true that many Red states get to take the pose of being fiscally conservative because they have a certain degree of federal largesse to fall back on. But it takes a more honest accounting than the typical “$X in/$X out” type of hit pieces in order to determine that.

      1. Yep. Also states don’t pay taxes to the federal government.

      2. I’m baffled by Snort’s note.

        Dear Mr. Walker,

        We heartily encourage you to keep your state’s dollars in your state’s pocket. Please be aware that other states will act directly in kind and, aside from some gross and egregious violations of fundamental human rights, that’s how it ought to be. We wish you the best of luck.

        Thanks,
        Libertarians

        P.S. – Please ignore notes from fake libertarians encouraging you to give up your dollars so that you can receive more than you gave back, libertarianism is confusing to some people and is exceedingly tolerant of bad apples.

        1. Are you saying the citizens of Wisconsin should send their tax money to the state and not to the federal government. Personally I’m not against that. What I am against is ME paying more to the feds so the good citizens of Wisconsin mooch off of ME. If that makes me a fake libertarian then so be it.

      3. Also would argue…taxes at the local and state level are better as it is easier to determine accountability.

        It is interesting reading the seattle times regarding stories of seattle and the mayor/council. The commenters some who identify as liberals are not thrilled with the waste of their tax dollars and don’t love tax increases as much as cons think when it comes to their mayor/council. Why? Because they see the affects of wasted money first hand and get tired of the corruption

        With the federal government it is hard to discern where it all goes besides (medicare, SS, medicaid)

        1. With the federal government it is hard to discern where it all goes besides (medicare, SS, medicaid)

          See also: Federal Reserve.

        2. It’s true accountability is “easier” to get from state and local governments but that doesn’t mean it will happen. I’ll be happy to go over many instances where corruption is tolerated on the local level as well as a few on state level. Some instances I have observed myself. Would you like to hear about the first time I voted and observed members of the conservative community changing ballots? And if you want to know I’m still mad.

      4. I guess doing more research than a quick google search is a good idea. My bad. I was unaware this type of data included socialist security and other similar taxes. There is a large military base nearby and the community is heavily dependent on it. I agree the state and local governments have little control over it. That said the base is the economic engine of the community and the state, county and city go out of their way to try to preserve the base even with the lack of control. nevertheless I remain convinced there are many out there that are all to happy to bite the hand that feeds them because they know the hand will always be there to bite again and again.

        1. Well i support much less federal tax for more local and state

          However overall id like much less tax

          1. Are you willing to give up what the federal tax dollars pay for? Is your state going to take up the slack? If an upwind state dumps poison in your air what will you do? Remember, you are downwind so you can’t dump poison in the air and have it blow into their state. I’m sure your state will complain, but what will it do? Set up toll booths at the state line to collect fees? Start a war? If your state is landlocked how will you export? Import? If your state needs food or fuel you will have to negotiate a deal with every state between your state and the state that has what you need. Like it or not a bureaucracy is needed to make things happen whether it be federal, state or local. If this is done by the state then every state will have to boost taxes to pay for it. Yes federal taxes will go down but state taxes will go up. now multiply by 50. Are you saving anything? Are you better off?

            1. OK, yeah, fake libertarian, new to libertarianism, or both.

    2. states don’t pay taxes, individuals do. Individuals are the ones that receive welfare.

      If anything…people should be thanking rich people. Old people should be thanking young etc

      1. “states don’t pay taxes, individuals do”

        Correct. It is ultimately individuals who pay and/or receive everything.

        Which is why that old leftist meme about how the blue states are “subsidizing” the red states is total bullshit.

        The only way to tell who is subsidizing who would be to analyze it at the individual level and the aggregate it back up and summarize based on the way each individual voted – red or blue.

        The taxes paid by one red voting hedge fund manager can outweigh a whole lot of blue taxpayers.

        1. Yep because there are blue people in red states and vice versa. The biggest gap was iirc 2 to 1.

          The higher income folks in states are the ones paying the taxes

        2. Blue states subsidizing red is kind of funny since they hate capitalism and profit while wanting redistribution

          The blue states are paying a lot because of the concentration of rich people (like hollywood, silicon valley, wall street and giant corporations)

          1. States receive block grants from the federal government for Medicaid/welfare, education, infrastructure, etc. So yeah, a portion of all of our federal tax dollars does go to subsidize individual states that we do not live in.

            google tax foundation – which states receive the most federal aid.

      2. Putin is one of the richest men in the world even though he stole most his wealth. A blanked endorsement of thanking the rich would imply we should thank him. Sorry, not happening. On certain issues the old should thank the young, but again it shouldn’t be a blanket “thank you”. You are correct. States don’t pay taxes, individuals do. Individuals should get their money’s worth but personally I don’t trust Scott Walker to be any less corrupt than almost any other politician. I’m trying not to throw the corruption blanket over all politicians, but it’s hard to resist.

  11. Do Conservatives Still Care About Federalism Now That Republicans Run the Federal Government?

    From the article, it appears the answer to the headline Q is yes.

    After years of using cries of “federalism!” to challenge the Obama administration, the tone, predictably, has shifted to one of cooperation and opportunity.

    Strange subheading, implying some antagonism between federalism on 1 hand and cooperation & opp’ty on the other.

  12. Do the Reason staff writers care about federalism as a principle or just on a utilitarian basis where it helps the issues they favor?

  13. Just don’t bring them by Leonard Matlovich’s grave. It’ll remind them of what they don’t like about Republicans.

    1. Doh, wrong article.

  14. The truth is that D’s are totalitarians and R’s are D’s with bibles. They’re both big believers in totalitarian and unconstitutional federal rule, the only difference is their perspective on how that rule should be used. They’re different ends of the same animal and it must be a brainless animal since you get excrement at either end.

  15. I don’t think the GOP has cared about federalism since 1860

  16. I am sick to death of reading this article every 4-8 years. Yes. We all know it.

  17. “Pennies on the dollar”? C’mon, Gov. Walker, your Pinocchio nose is almost as long as Donald Trump’s. You must know that Wisconsin gets at least $1.75 back for each dollar in federal taxes sent to the Treasury. Don’t let Trump’s lying become the norm.

    1. Facts are fake news. Both parties have completely lost all ability to reason or think critically.

  18. >Do Conservatives Still Care About Federalism Now That Republicans Run the Federal Government?

    Yes, when it fits their agenda (LGBTQ, education, etc.). No, when it does not (pot, immigration, etc.).

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