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Devolution of Federal Powers in the United States: Possibilities

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Raven, Jul 15, 2011.

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  1. Raven

    Raven Administrator Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Oct 5, 1998

    One of the key items being argued right now is the relative importance of items like health care, social security, and general Federal level expenditures. I posted a tongue-in-cheek thread a few months ago mocking the issue, essentially advocating cutting absolutely everything and letting people fend for themselves. While that was originally intended as a joke, the current political situation in Washington and the absolute logjam showing there has led me to reconsider it somewhat.

    Essentially, say that the US Federal government devolved the majority of its current obligations to the state level. The US Federal government would still be responsible for the Defence Department and certain other responsibilities (diplomatic presence around the world, the Federal Justice Department, probably the CDC, etc). At current requirements, the Defence Department can likely be currently budgeted at around $700 billion per year, with the remaining Federal requirements coming to less than $100 billion.

    There would be two options as to what to do with the Federal debt. One option is that it would remain on the Federal level, and would continue to be paid down by revenues collected on the Federal level. The second option is to distribute the debt to the states on a per capita basis. The first option is probably more fair and viable.

    As to the rest (social security, Medicare, and every other pie that the Federal government has a finger in) it would be devolved to the state level. States would be responsible for and able to make their own policies, and to tax people or not tax people accordingly. If Mississippi feels that entitlements are a bad thing, the state would be free to strip them to the bone or abolish them altogether. If Maine wants socialized health care on a European or Canadian model, they?d be free to proceed with it.

    The upside for Republicans is that in Red states, they?d no longer be paying so much for their services. If Massachusetts wants to be a tax and spend state, they can, with no effect on Kentucky. If Nebraska wants to run a bare bones government, they?d be free to, and no Blue state could object to their policy. The upside for the Democrats is essentially the same, that they could implement progressive policies without Republicans trying to railroad them.

    An additional upside is that it would remove some inefficiencies and duplications of services. Most states have their own departments of education, but so does the Federal government. It also allows for a locally appropriate solution to problems, rather than a one-size-fits-all solution: what works in heavily urbanized New York might now work in very rural Iowa.

    There is a strong potential downside as well. Obviously, current Federal revenue per capita is not equal on a state by state level. While states would be free to set their own revenue policies, states like West Virginia and South Carolina wouldn?t be able to match the revenues of states like Connecticut and Illinois. The ?have? states could provide greater services at lower levels of taxation, based on the higher income of earners in those states. The results could be migrations of people from the have-not states to the have states. In the worst case scenario, the ?have not? states essentially stop being first world places.

    So, thoughts on this ?100% More Constitutional!? plan for the US? Viable as an idea, but politically impossible? Politically possible, but an absolutely horrible idea? Exactly what the Democrats/Republicans deserve?
  2. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    Vermont has passed single-payer healthcare, planned to take effect in 2014, so it will be interesting to see how that experiment goes.

    But yeah, lately I've been wondering if that would be politically easier too... yet politically easier does not usually make the best policy. Richer and bigger states would be much better off than poorer and smaller states. Federal programs not only assure some level of equality, having a larger pool also means lower costs for everyone.

    Maybe a middle-ground could be: the federal government mandates a result, but it's up to the states to figure out how to achieve that result, with the federal government perhaps offering some financial aid? And maybe allow smaller and poorer to state to voluntarily join associations or leagues with other states, to share in taxes and benefits? Then all those states who say "a free market approach would be best for healthcare" would be able to prove or disprove their ideas, and have to change their policies if they fail, and the same for more progressive states.

    But some things, like civil rights and anti-discrimination, should definitely stay at the federal level.
  3. Valairy Scot

    Valairy Scot Backpacking One Pack a Day Mod of New Films star 6 Staff Member Manager

    Sep 16, 2005
    Just one take on one aspect of that model - many states, like Washington, have an "urban/liberal" side and more "rural/conservative" side (if one must use labels). Already the eastern half of western Washington counties and the east side of the state feel trampled on by the "Seattle liberals."

    They're outvoted, certainly, just by numbers.

    In your possible scenario, you'd still have dissatisfied citizens who feel they don't get a fair shake - it would just be a transfer from the Feds not giving it to the "whosit" in the state.

    Politically, then, I don't know how that would fly. Economically - does anyone have a reasonably good idea how that would play out (other than doing away with the duplication of certain services)?
  4. firesaber

    firesaber Jedi Master star 4

    Mar 5, 2006
    The states cannot seem to manage their houses even with Federal Support, money, etc. Wisconsin and whats going on in Connecticut right now are two good examples.
  5. Ghost

    Ghost Chosen One star 7

    Oct 13, 2003
    Well, the common rebuttal to that is "move to another state." Or follow conservative South California, which right now wants to secede from California.

    But in reality, people hardly ever "vote with their feet," and simply splitting a state seems even more unlikely.

    Not sure about the economic consequences, but I'm sure they'd be terrible for smaller and poorer states, like my state of Rhode Island.

    Certain things must absolutely stay at the federal level, though. In addition to the civil rights and anti-discrimination I mentioned above, I would add environmental laws, which by their very nature don't respect political boundaries. And of course defense/diplomacy/immigration/currency.
  6. DarthBoba

    DarthBoba Manager Emeritus star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Jun 29, 2000
    We can run DoD for far less than the current 700 billion a year, actually, and we should be.

    This Center for Budgetary And Strategic Analysis study shows that we're spending approximately 35% more on defense than we were in 2001 for not a lot of actual gains in capability:


    The three most expensive areas are:

    -Operations and Training (approximately 283 billion last year)

    -Personnel (approximately 140 billion last year)

    -Procurement (around 150 billion last year)

    Operations and training will obviously take a drop once the troop withdrawal from Iraq is complete later this year, but training really cannot be cut unless you want to have an overpaid and badly trained force. The clear target is going to be personnel costs and yet another stab at streamlining procurement (hint: probably won't work out).

    My favorite pentagon budget figure is the fact that we had approximately 2.4 million men and women in uniform at the end of the cold war for 429 billion a year, and now we have about half that for a third more money.
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