Government at all levels is dysfunctional and James L. Buckley in ‘Saving Congress from Itself‘ may have hit upon a critical first step toward regeneration.
Bruce Paterson made a pertinent point at the last Union County freeholder meeting about the deleterious effect of grants on local governance:
While in response to the Central States pension decision last week Teamsters representative John Murphy was quoted as saying:
The MPRA was a horrible piece of legislation that would have never passed through Congress on its own merits. It passed in the eleventh hour as a self-executing amendment to a spending bill that had to go through. In the short term, we intend to continue to push through legislative remedies that will fix the negative aspects of the MPRA while fighting to repeal the law in the long term.
Mr. Murphy is right. MPRA is a bad law that was pushed through by special interests for their own benefit without adequate consideration of consequences or alternatives. Congress failed to do its job as legislators were preoccupied with dictating to other levels of government.
Which brings us to Mr. Buckley’s book and these excerpts from the Introduction that make the connection:
The United States faces two major problems today: runaway spending that threatens to bankrupt us and a Congress that appears unable to deal with long-term problems of any consequence. A significant source of each is a category of federal expenditures that has somehow escaped the notice it deserves. I refer to federal grants to state and local governments that have soared from $24.1 billion in 1970 to an estimated $640.8 billion in 2015. Grants-in-aid programs now absorb major portions of congressional time, thereby diverting Congress form its core national responsibilities, and they expend extraordinary amounts of money on objectives that are the constitutional concerns of the states. They also come freighted with detailed federal directives that deprive state and local officials of the ability to meet their own responsibilities in their own ways and undermine their citizens’ ability to ensure that their taxes will be used to meet local priorities rather than those of distant bureaucracies. (page XI)
The use of federal money triggers a host of mandates (such as the obligation to pay union wage scales on construction work financed with federal dollars) that can add substantially to what a state would spend on a particular project if it were only using its own money. (page XII)
Had my senator asked me, I would have told him that my greatest worry was over the future the little girl seated across the aisle from us will face if Congress fails to screw up the courage to address our deficits and the runaway costs of our entitlement programs. In time she and her playmates will be faced with economy-crushing levels of taxation and/or savings-destroying rates of inflation if Congress fails to act. This is the sort of problem my senator and his colleagues in Washington should be concentrating on, not matters like bus schedules that governors and mayors are far better able to address. (pages XIV-XV)
Congress’s current dysfunction is rooted in its assumption, over the years, of more responsibilities than it can handle. As a result, its members now live a treadmill existence that no longer allows them time to study, learn, and think things through. Instead, they substitute political reflex for thought. To compound the problem, their eyes are now so fixed on their particular political bases that they hesitate to make the compromises that the legislative process requires, and to ensure reelection, they avoid coming to grips with divisive issues whenever they can. When members of Congress do manage to enact a complex piece of legislation, they no longer have the time or patience to attend to all the minutiae that responsible legislation requires. Instead, they pass the messy details along to federal agencies, which spin out the regulators that will give the law shape. So no one, including those who drafted those laws, really knows how their handiwork will affect the real world until the regulations have been issued and put into effect. (page XVI)
As radical as it may at first appear, my modest proposal, namely the eradication of all federal grants to state and local governments, requires no more than that members of Congress honor the principle of federalism that is embedded in the Constitution they are pledged to defend. (page XVI)