Federalism-Summit Proposals Series: THE States AND THE Union. Part 2 of a Three-Part Series. Part 1 Ran Yesterday; Part 3 Will Run Tomorrow

The Christian Science Monitor, November 2, 1995 | Go to article overview

Federalism-Summit Proposals Series: THE States AND THE Union. Part 2 of a Three-Part Series. Part 1 Ran Yesterday; Part 3 Will Run Tomorrow


MEMBERS of five major organizations representing state officials met in Cincinnati last week and proposed four ideas to redress what they see as the imbalance between the federal and state governments. Over the next two days, the Monitor will take a look at the pros and cons of these proposals. Today: proposals 1 and 2.

The "States' Federalism Summit" acknowledged the federal government's constitutional powers "to provide for the national defense, to conduct foreign policy, and to ensure the civil and constitutional rights of our citizens."

Proposal 1: "A federalism act to enhance the political safeguards of federalism and give states a more effective voice in congressional deliberations."

A federalism law would require Congress to provide a constitutional basis for specific legislation. It would also require Congress to justify setting aside state laws in areas supposedly protected by the 10th Amendment. Congress would be obligated to consider whether state statutes might not provide a better solution to the problem in question. And federal agencies would need specific congressional authorization to preempt state legislation.

Arguments in favor: Congress would have to consider the appropriate use of federal power when it approves new laws. Bills that did not provide a constitutional justification could not be considered. This proposal would be less controversial than the others, as it would require no constitutional amendment. This year's bill to ban new unfunded federal mandates on states is a model for such a law.

Arguments against: A federalism act would not create rights that could be enforced in court, and future sessions of Congress could simply ignore or repeal it. Or Congress might simply write "boilerplate" language that would be attached to each law. Federalism debates could become smoke screens to defeat bills without a debate on their merits, thus fueling further public anger with Congress. …

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