Chapter 3 Federalism: Forging a Nation Chapter Outline

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1. The framers chose to create a federal system of government for pragmatic reasons. There was a need for a stronger national government, as was evidenced by the experience of Americans under the Articles of Confederation. In addition, the states existed and were intent on retaining their sovereignty. The framers felt that a confederal system of government was doomed to fail, and they did not aspire to create a unitary system of government, as they felt that it might create a tyrannical government. Federalism, they felt, would protect individual liberty, moderate the power of government, and provide the foundation for an effective national government.

2. Dual federalism describes the American experience from the end of the Civil War until 1937. Dual federalism was based on the premise that a precise separation of national and state authority was both possible and desirable. Certain policy areas (e.g., foreign affairs) were within the realm of the federal government, while others were reserved to the states (e.g., education). Dual federalism has been likened to a layer cake, where each level of government (state and national) has its jurisdiction, and the two levels do not interact or overlap. Dual federalism was based in part on an interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, which stipulates that all power not specifically given to the national government is reserved for the states.

3. Cooperative federalism evolved in the United States in the 1930s. A new trend of long-term expansion of national authority emerged during the Great Depression and New Deal era. The national government now operates in many policy areas which were strictly limited to the states and localities during the dual federalism period. While the national government does not dominate in many policy areas, it does play a significant role. Much of this expansion in national prominence in public affairs stems from social welfare programs that were enacted during the 1960s. Cooperative federalism has been likened to a marble cake, where policy makers representing local and state governments and the national government work together in an attempt to address policy challenges. Cooperative federalism is based on shared policy responsibilities rather than sharply divided ones. An example is the Medicaid program, which was launched in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.

4. State and local governments receive two major types of financial assistance from the national government: categorical grants and block grants. Categorical grants are more restrictive, and can be used only for a specific purpose. An example would be national funding for school lunch programs. These funds can only be used in support of school lunches, and cannot be utilized for other school purposes, such as the hiring of new teachers or the purchase of textbooks. Block grants are less restrictive, and local and/or state officials are allocated federal monies to be used for a general purpose, such as economic development. The recipients select the specific projects to be funded, not the national government. State and local officials generally prefer block grants, as this type of assistance allows them more discretion. Members of Congress have at times preferred categorical grants, because this approach gives them more control over how state and local policy makers spend federal funds. Recently, officials at all levels have looked to block grants as the key to a more workable form of federalism.

5. The devolution movement of the late twentieth century is attributable to both practical and political developments. In the early 1980s, federal officials were confronted by large budget deficits, and awarding more money to the states and localities was not feasible. Some grant programs, especially those related to welfare, had become increasingly unpopular. In the electoral arena, the Republican Party scored a decisive victory in the 1994 midterm elections. Republican lawmakers, led by the new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, pledged to cut social programs while increasing state and local autonomy. The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 and the 1996 welfare reform bill were laws that promoted the concept of devolution. After 1996, however, congressional efforts to reduce federal authority declined sharply. Federal power actually saw a substantial increase relative to the states during the presidency of George W. Bush, with new federal legislation affecting education policy and new national security developments.

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