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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.


2.0 - Introduction
2.1 Concepts of Federalism
2.2 Defining Federal-State Relations
2.3 Recent Trends in Federalism

Chapter 3

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