2.3 Recent Trends in Federalism
The American Constitution is a living constitution. It has proved to be flexible enough to keep pace with changing social conditions. Though the powers of the Congress are expressly stated, they have also to be interpreted, either in a broad or narrow sense. From the start, there had been a trend to expand these powers by judicial construction. Owing to public opinion, the Congress had to pass several laws that reduced the limitations imposed on federal authority by the Constitution.
Under President Lyndon Johnson’s tenure a considerable amount of power was transferred to the central government. Major civil rights legislation and programs such as the War on Poverty and Medicare were undertaken. Cities were given more grants and the manner of utilizing federal resources was after left to non-governmental agencies.
President Richard Nixon’s tenure was noted for the introduction of New Federalism, with the novel concept of revenue sharing. Thus the states and cities were returned the tax money so that they could decide on which programs needed grants. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) and the Clean Air Act were passed, through which further federal mandates were imposed on state and local governments.
There was an intention to empower the states further, during
the term of President Ronald Reagan. This included the decrease
in federal aid to the states owing to cuts in the budget. The states
and municipalities had to raise taxes, privatize services and cut
their programs. Lotteries were issued to raise revenue or to fund
programs in several states.
2.3a Ongoing Mandates
Only legislation can bring about a fundamental change in the relationship between the federal government and the states. Recent laws are an addition to the federal mandates. For example the costs to states and localities increase when Congress expands the eligibility for Medicaid. Similarly, the Americans with Disabilities Act did not provide the necessary funds to equip buildings so that the handicapped could access them easily.
Unfunded mandates led to heated debates on issues of legislative
requirements and the consequences of unsuccessful national policies,
in the 20th century. It was argued, for example, that the states
should not be made to pay for the central government’s failure in
controlling the borders of the nation.
2.3b Where Americans stand
In 1987, less than 50% American population felt
hat the federal government's power was increasing. In 1994, polls
indicated that 75% of the people were of the contrasting opinion.
Further, the Americans even felt that the state and local governments
could deal with domestic issues better than the federal government.
During President Clinton's tenure, the general opinion was that
reform proposals were leading to an increase in the federal government's
control. Thus much progress could not be made. When the Republicans
secured control of both houses of the Congress in 1994, the Contract
With America was put forward, with an emphasis on a return of power
to the states. Further legislation was passed that greatly limited
new federal mandate in the absence of the funds to cover them.