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On February 19 of this year, Utah’s Senate President and House Speaker co-authored an op-ed for the Washington Post in which they kindly requested that the federal government hand over some of its assumed powers to Utah as an “experiment” to help “relieve some of their burden”. This “modest proposal” suggested that the feds allow Utah to manage its own education, transportation, and Medicaid, while retaining all tax money that is currently being sent to the feds and back down to Utah for these programs.
The stated concern was not one of state sovereignty or individual rights—the authors sought instead to reassure skeptics that “this experiment in the interest of balanced federalism would have little impact on the federal budget, on other programs or on other states.” No, far from being an insistence of strict federalism under the U.S. Constitution, it was a proposal to implement “balanced” federalism with Utah’s top legislators asking for the federal government’s permission.
Commenting on the op-ed on the same day it was published, U.S. Congressman Rob Bishop, from Utah, wrote:
Having spent the past seven years in Washington, I am convinced now more than ever that federalism must be the core principle for all decision making here in Washington. We will never be able to offer true reform until we recognize that Washington cannot solve every problem in this country and that states are better suited to deal with many of the problems federal bureaucrats can’t solve.
It’s important to pay attention to what’s being said, and what’s not being said. These politicians are arguing for a “federalism lite”—one in which the federal government allows the states to do certain things not because the federal government has no authority to do them, but because it logistically cannot do them well.
Despite their words demonstrating a lack of understanding, and despite their reasons being in complete conflict with the Tenth Amendment (again, they’re not arguing that Utah and other states retain powers not delegated, but rather be given powers the federal government can’t effectively employ), these individuals are still arguing that the states should enjoy greater power in balance with the federal government. This is something worth supporting. But any good Tenther—indeed, any good citizen—knows that a politician’s words should not be trusted. This is especially the case with Rep. Bishop, who three months later founded the Tenth Amendment Task Force, whose stated mission is to “Disperse power from Washington and restore the Constitutional balance of power through liberty-enhancing federalism.”
In the press release announcing the creation of the task force, the eleven founding legislators stated:
More than ever, Americans are expressing frustration at having important facets of their lives controlled by a government that is out of reach and out of touch. Among other things, the task force will focus on educating Congress and the public about federalism, elevating federalism as a core Republican focus and monitoring threats to 10th Amendment principles.
Again, this all sounds well and good. However, a closer look at the task force’s members and their voting records casts an important light on its legitimacy in being a group of true defenders of the Tenth Amendment. Anticipating this to a certain degree, Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center stated:
If the Task Force refuses to do anything beyond using the Tenth Amendment as a mouth piece to promote conservative ideas, they’re far more damaging to the future of the Constitution in this country than they’ll ever be help.
Of course, the best way to determine the sincerity of these federalists-come-latelies is to see how they have voted on related legislation in the past. Brevity requires a limited analysis, and so we’ll look only at the record of the Task Force’s founder, Rep. Bishop. The following are a few highlights on Rep. Bishop’s votes on legislation dealing with Tenth Amendment issues.
- On May 15, 2007, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 1700, a bill to provide the annual funds for the Community-Oriented Policing Services at the tune of $1.15 billion per year. This program provides federal funds in the form of grants to local police units in order to hire additional officers. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is the federal government delegated the authority to take money from citizens in one state to hire police officers in another.
- On November 14, 2007, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 1429, a bill to reauthorized and fund the Head Start Program—a federal “comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement” program which supplies grants to local and state educational entities. This bill reauthorized the program through 2012, providing between $7-8 billion per year in funding. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is the federal government empowered to regulate or spend money on education, health, or parental involvement. Rep. Bishop, a school teacher, himself, has often voted in support of such programs. Two years previous, for example, he again voted to reauthorized and fund (to the tune of $7 billion annually) the Head Start Program.
- On January 29, 2008, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 5140, the stimulus bill which created rebate checks for taxpayers. This bill had no constitutional authority to justify its implementation.
- On May 23, 2006, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 5384, an agricultural appropriations bill providing for $93.6 billion in 2007 alone for the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and related agencies. This funding included $37.9 billion for food stamps, $13.3 billion for the child nutrition program, and $19.7 billion for direct aid to farmers. None of these programs have any basis in the U.S. Constitution; social welfare programs, if they are to exist at all, must operate only at a state level. Rep. Bishop also voted for the same kind of bill in the previous session.
- On July 27, 2003, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 1, the Medicare Part D bill rammed through Congress by the Bush administration. This bill, for which no constitutional authority can be found, created a new $15 trillion unfunded liability.
- On June 24, 2005, Rep. Bishop voted in support of H.R. 3010, a bill to provide a whopping $601.6 billion in 2006 alone to the Labor Department, Education Department, and Health and Human Services Department. This was a 21% increase over the appropriations from the previous year. These departments engage in numerous programs that violate the Tenth Amendment—one can easily argue that the existence of the departments themselves is unconstitutional—and yet Rep. Bishop votes for their support and funding repeatedly.
This list has to stop somewhere, so it might as well be there. Other votes could be mentioned, such as those regarding bills dealing with special education, agricultural subsidies, the REAL ID Act, unemployment benefits, job training, etc. In each case, Rep. Bishop cast a vote which violated the language and principle of the Tenth Amendment, and supported a federal government exceeding its constitutional authority.
If the Tenth Amendment Task Force is to be perceived as legitimate and worthy of our collective support, its members—and especially its founder—must demonstrate that they have changed. Further still, the fact that all of its members are Republican signifies that not until the GOP is in control of Congress and the executive branch will such a demonstration be sincere; it’s easy to be the “party of no” when the other party is calling the shots. Rep. Bishop and his Republican colleagues who have been around for a while have far worse voting records when their own party was in control.
Despite all of the above, Tenthers everywhere should welcome and encourage legislation from this group that makes a positive impact in reducing the size and scope of the federal government. If they are successful to any degree in restraining their colleagues and returning stolen power to the states, then we will applaud them loudly.
Until that time, a word of caution. As the Task Force’s founder has a very questionable voting record in regards to the Tenth Amendment’s clear language, and since his colleagues have voted similarly on many bills, this group of politicians should be kept at arm’s length and made to prove themselves. Actions speak louder than words. So, too, do voting records speak louder than press releases.