Before turning to the Donald J. Trump presidency I think it is appropriate to take a brief look back over the past eight years and say a heart-felt thank you to President Barak Obama. No doubt many Americans will miss his integrity and his calm, cool leadership in the coming months and years. I know I will.
A friend recently lamented that his prediction that Trump would change if he were elected president was totally wrong. It is apparent to many that the narcissistic, prevaricating, uninformed, divider of people that was Donald Trump the candidate is now President Trump.
Since the election Trump has continued to campaign, still trying to gain support. Yet he took office with an approval rating of 40 percent or less. His false comments about winning the popular vote but for millions of illegal votes and his claim of a landslide victory in the Electoral College are signs of a very insecure man. But you know all that.
So instead of dwelling on the past and beating a dead horse, as it were, let’s take a look at some current events that might affect the future.
It is widely known that hundreds of important positions in Trump’s administration, some of which are critical to our national security, are still not filled. Actually the Trump transition team has asked a number of Obama appointees to stay on until their replacement is named. This speaks to the incompetence of Trump’s transition team, which is apparently run by Vice President Mike Pence. Disorganization in our government at the start of an administration, particularly with regard to national security, is troubling. The Trump team claims they will hit the ground running but it seems they will hit the ground running in circles.
The backlash from the GOP rush to repeal Obamacare is a gathering storm on the GOP political horizon. Republican lawmakers are getting pushback at public events and constituent’s questions aren’t being answered. The GOP has dug a big hole for itself. And with comments from Trump that an Obamacare replacement should cover everyone, the hole just keeps getting deeper.
On Capitol Hill it has become known among policy makers and Congress that Trump’s economic team is working on a budget using proposals that were prepared last year by the far-right Heritage Foundation. I couldn’t wait to download them, all 332 pages.
One is entitled “Blueprint for Balance, A Federal Budget for 2017.” The other is entitled “Blueprint for Reform, A Comprehensive Policy Agenda for a New Administration in 2017.” Over the next 10 years the budget document calls for federal spending reductions of $10.5 trillion and tax cuts of $1.3 trillion. It proposes to balance the federal budget within seven years and it advocates cutting numerous federal programs, particularly those affecting climate change.
Here is just a smattering of what the Trump team is apparently considering in addition to the usual old saws of eliminating regulations, protecting the life of the unborn, restoring religious freedom and bolstering defense:
True Federalism – The aim is to “create competition among the states, thereby creating incentives for them to enact policies that retain and attract citizens.”
Infrastructure – Heritage would “leave the vast majority of funding decisions to states and localities, which know their priorities best and are more accountable to the public.”
Welfare – “States should gradually assume greater revenue responsibility for welfare programs; that is, they should pay for and administer the programs with state resources.”
Medicaid – “Medicaid assistance to able-bodied individuals should be converted to a direct contribution (insurance premium support) to facilitate participation in the private marketplace, and federal assistance to the states for the disabled and elderly should be limited to ensure fiscal control.”
Medicare – “Medicare should transition to a defined-contribution, premium support program.”
Education – “Congress should cut the size, scope and funding of the Department of Education.” “To increase access and affordability of higher education, policymakers should limit federal subsidies and spending, which has [sic] contributed to increases in costs.”
Free Trade – “Congress should further eliminate trade barriers and protectionist policies to increase American’s freedom to trade.”
Tax System – “The tax system should raise the revenue necessary to fund a limited government at the lowest level possible for constitutionally appropriate activities.” The Heritage Foundation prefers a flat tax rate of 12 percent designed more like a consumption tax and wants to eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends and estates.
Of course the Heritage plan doesn’t fit with Trump’s populous agenda, assuming he actually has one. But I would bet that it is supported by a majority of Republicans in Congress, particularly those in the House.
Unfortunately the Heritage Foundation’s zeal to diminish the federal government and eliminate the safety-net seems to ignore certain facts about state economies, particularly in Republican voting states. Many are poor and heavily dependent on tax revenues that the federal government collects from the richer states and distributes to them. In fact, federal funding averages around 30 percent of all state budgets.
States like Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, New Mexico and others do not have the economic base to raise taxes to replace federal funding in their budgets. States like New York, California, Minnesota and other blue states with strong economic bases could probably cope.
Trump voters demanded “change.” But you know the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for because you are liable to get it.”
The Republican party’s position relative to the Affordable Care Act reminds me of the dog who chases cars: it’s OK until the car stops–then it doesn’t know what to do with it. While the Republican Congress had Obama to veto their repeated calls to repeal it (how many times did they do that?), they were safe. Now, with a Republican president, it suddenly has to figure out how do get a better bill than Obama did (or even as good). They may find out how tough it is to negotiate with the drug and insurance lobbys, among others.
Always enjoy your thoughts.
It seems to me that the 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, essentially reversed the meaning of the clause in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, “… direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States.” Once “taxes on incomes, from whatever sources derived” became the major funding of the national government, “apportionment” no longer meant levying tax bills upon the states, as Article I intended, but rather Distributing money from the national treasury to the several states, according to census data. That has been the logic under which the national government underwrites aid to schools, money to build state-owned infrastructures, Medicaid, and the like. That seems to have been the Founders’ concept of federalism, and it’s fairly consistent with modern paradigms for business management, i.e., “distributed management.” The more the mechanics of governance are consolidated into one government, the more they have become hamstrung. It’s a shibboleth that the benefits of uniformity also contribute to efficiency in a nation of 50 states with conflicting interests, priorities and vested interests. These conflicts seem to guarantee stalemate in Washington. Devolving as much as possible to the several states, as the Tenth Amendment seems to mandate, surely would go far to remove much of the grounds for stalemate.
Social and cultural constraints differ from state, as surely as do economic constraints, so it’s probable that block grants sent to the several states would be spent differently in states like Mississippi, Wyoming, and California. Some priorities in Alabama undoubtedly would offend New Yorkers and North Carolinians. That is the nature of federalism.
A major advantage of federalist doctrine is that it promotes diverse and competitive approaches to governance. Obamacare, for instance, channeled a program in Massachusetts. Had some comparable but different program in, for instance, Ohio or Colorado been weighed against the results of the Massachusetts program, it plausibly would have been different than it is, and without doubt would have been much better received by the public at large — if not with the insurance industry. The prospects for infrastructures could be another area where block grants could expedite modernization. Education reform is another example wherein federalism seems more promising than consolidated nationalism.
Those of us who believe that the Constitution should be a living document look for ways to creatively adapt it to modern times. Undoing federalism has been a steady trend in America for a century or more, and arguably it has damaged national cohesion more than fostered it.