When it comes to solutions on how to fix the current political dilemmas in America, there are plenty out there to choose. The trouble with them starts when assessing their practicality and realistic outlook on the situation.
In his book Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering the People, former U.S. Senator James L. Buckley offers his own remedy: The elimination of federal grants,
Drawing from his own experience in D.C. as a senator and judge, his concise and dispassionate examination of the country’s political and financial future offers both a unique and useful perspective. Sadly, the means of implementing his solution is Congress, rather than nullification and anti-commandeering as advocated by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
A relatively short and easy read, Buckley argues that the way in which to prevent a financial collapse and end federal intrusion into state affairs is by eliminating federal grants, which have ballooned from $640 billion in 2015 compared to $24 billion in 1970.
The book breaks down into three main sections that cover how we got to the situation we’re in, the effects of it at the local level, and the changes that need to happen before the solution can be implemented.
For a former politician, Buckley’s understanding of the Constitution is quite sound. In his introduction, he correctly observes how the most ordinary day-to-day activities in cities and states are negatively affected by federal control through federal grants and how this runs counter to what the Founders intended. He also refutes the common misconception that the Bill of Rights infers a limited list of liberties, rather than the Constitution being a list of limited federal powers.
Quoting Madison in Federalist 51, Buckley explains the significance of this point. The inherent tension between the states and the federal government, he writes, protect the peoples’ liberties.
All of this is undermined through federal grant programs, which Buckley writes, “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 bureaucrats.”
While these grants violate the Tenth Amendment, at least in spirit, Buckley points out that this undermining of federalism didn’t occur overnight, but through a long sordid history of Supreme Court rulings that enabled the feds by reinterpreting the Spending Clause, which gives the feds the authority to “to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.”
As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Buckley’s solution doesn’t involve the Supreme Court, and for good reason. He places a great deal of culpability at their feet in the initial chapters of the book recounting the history of Supreme Court rulings concerning the Spending Clause and the Interstate Commerce Clause. In the 1937 case of Steward Machine Co. v. Davis, the court ruled that the feds could provide states with funds to implement programs that Congress itself had no power to write into law.”
Over time, the feds offered more grants to the states. Eager for free money, the states accepted them. Finally, in 1987, it got to the point where the court stated in South Dakota v. Dole that the feds could “induce” states into accepting federal directives that normally would fall within the constitutional authority of the state.
In that ruling, the court also said that it was “question[able] whether ‘general welfare’ is a judicially enforceable restriction at all.”
These in-grant-aid programs accelerated, Buckley writes, during Johnson’s Great Society; in 1960, there were 132 programs, but by 1970 there were 530. This has led to a situation that Peter Drucker describes in his essay “Sickness of Government” as “administrative incompetence.”
In more recent times, Buckley describes how the Department of Education’s Race