After the American colonies won their independence from the British, the thirteen colonies became the current thirteen states on America. These states have formed a league that enables them to work together in harmony. The Article of Confederation was a document that described their system of government, where the state governments had most of the power than the national/federal government. However, this contradicted the government under the King that placed the national/federal government above the state governments. The constitution was written in order to replace the Article of confederation, which the founding fathers thought to leave the nation too weak. The constitution, however, strengthened the national government, and divided power between the federal states governments.
For close to 200 years, the relationship between the state and federal governments of the United States has inclined more toward the supremacy of the national government. However, some observers and philosophers today still assert that over the recent twenty years, the balancing of power has shifted toward the states. Under the banner of New Federalism, presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, and George bushed are viewed to have slowed down the growth of national government, and uplifted the states governments. During his time, Richard Nixon made a declaration of an attempt to reserve the flow of power to the states governments from the federal government (Bulman-Pozen, 2012). Additionally, during the presidential campaigns of 1980, which Ronald Regan won, Regan claimed that the federal government was eroding the individual freedoms in its attempts to improve the society. Further still, in 1994, Republicans took control of both houses of the Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate), there was an attempt to return many functions to the states through the devolution revolution leaders. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the controversy in the devolution of power to the states has been an uphill task since most of the federal government responsibilities are shared with the state governments (De leeuw, 2012). Before New Deal and the Great Depression, several political experts related the federalism system to the layer cake, where each layer of the government namely the state, federal and local governments have clearly and distinctly separated responsibilities. The dual federalism represents an interpretation whereby every layer of the government dominates its own sphere (Chung-Lae & Wright, 2004).
Since the constitution was put in place and signed into law, the division of power in the United States has majorly been based on the sharing of power between the national/federal government and the individual state governments. The aforementioned process is referred to as federalism. Among some of the shared functions of the state and federal governments, include the following; the federal government coins money, declares war, conducts foreign relation, as well as oversee the foreign and interstate trade and relationships. On the other hand, the state governments are charged with the responsibilities such as ratifying amendments, overseeing the trade and relations within the state, managing public health and safety, and education within the state. Additionally, there are shared roles that include making and enforcing laws, taxation, and borrowing of money (Aves, 2012)
For the better performance of the aforementioned duties, the federal and state governments have been subdivided into areas, and each area assigned a responsibility to carry out. Every state of America has a unique constitution corresponding to its unique needs, history, philosophies of leadership, and geographical factors. Even though the States’ constitutions are dissimilar, their laws do not contradict the constitution of the federal government, and the constitution of the federal government is considered the supreme law of the land. Both the state and federal governments separates power into three branches namely the judicial, legislative and executive branches of the government. In most of the states with the exception of a few such as Nebraska, the legislative branch of the government contains two houses. Additionally, in the place of the president of the federal government, the states elect governors. In addition to these governments, there are several other local governments in the United States such as the counties, town and townships, municipalities, school districts, and special district governments.
The federal government
The American founding fathers and the people who framed the constitution wished to construct a government where power is shared among different institutions and not on one person like is the case with other nations that have only the national governments. These founding fathers had experience the one-man rule system during the rule of the King in the colonial times. After first adopting the Article of Confederation, they realized that they needed a more centralized system of governance that all the states of America were united and worked in unison. Therefore, they provided a constitution that considered a system of separation of power into three branches of government. Each of these branches has its separate responsibilities, and consistently works together to ensure the smooth running of affairs of the federal and states governments. The three branches of the federal government under the United States Constitution are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislative branch, which is based in the United States capital city, is further subdivided into two houses that are the House of Representatives and the senate, comprising the congress. The executive branch is based at the white house and includes the United States President, and his deputy. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court.
A recent research study revealed that the growing split between the states and federal governments makes for a difficult and deteriorating relationship, with few exceptions (Sen & Stevens, 2013). In this study, all the four federalism experts that were interviewed indicated that the current tensions in the federal systems are more resistant to solution than they were only a decade ago (Sen & Stevens, 2013). These experts further argued that the relationship between the federal and states governments is greatly diminishing with every state seeming to seek independence from the federal government and the later seeking control over the former government. Even in this time of great tension, the experts provide an analysis that indicate that the federal government has demonstrated resilience and vitality, and that the state governments sometime act in defiance of federal laws. Below are some of some of the developments that were identified by this study to pose challenges to the relationship between the state and federal government.
Reauthorization of Federal Laws
This has been one of the factors limiting superiority of power of the federal government. In history, it has been realized that several federal laws have been considered expired. This calls for congressional reauthorization or amendments in order to remain in place. This process has been one of the casualties of the near paralysis that characterizes much of the activity in the United States capital (Tubbesing, 2013). For several decades, some laws have been reauthorized while others have not. For instance, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Amendment Act were last amended in 1990 and 1996 respectively (Tubbesing, 2013). However, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act faced a reauthorization in 2005. Nevertheless, this act has existed on several short-lived extensions since then. Other laws like the No Child Left Behind Education Act and the Workforce Investment Act of 2001 and 1998 respectively have not been authorized. It has been identified that the failure to acts helps the states not only to plan ahead, but also to assists in improving them.
The United States constitution allows states to apply for waivers from specific provisions in the federal laws. There are theories associated to this waiver, one of them being that it saves the Congress from writing many details into legislations as well as allowing the executive branch of the government accommodation for variations in states. These waivers have been considered to help in encouraging certain state actions. For instance, the Affordable Care Act negotiations between states and the Obama administration have used waivers as an important negotiation tool. President Bush also used the same tool to encourage states to comply with the No Child Left Behind Law (Tubbesing, 2013). Nevertheless, there have been concerns on the transparency of granting the waivers and the equitable treatment of states during these processes.
During the mid 1960s, the competitive grants were awarded to the states according to the decisions of the federal government. These awards were based on criteria and standards that were established by the laws of the federal administration. Political experts have noticed that the Obama administration has been fascinated with these competitive grants. During the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the president used the competitive grants for high-speed rail and other projects related to transport (Tubbesing, 2013). According to these experts, they further argue that the competitive grants represent top-down federalism; however, they argue that the amount of money involved in the grants makes them irresistible.
During Ronal Regan’s era as the United States president, there were institutions such as the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. This institution and several others were responsible for the research and discussions among federal and state governments. Nevertheless, these institutions have been dismantled, thereby breaking the communication between these levels of governments. According to the experts and analysts, the disappearance of these institutions weakens the communication and intergovernmental interactions between the states and the national governments.
This is the final factor that the political analysts have developed and considered to weaken the relations between the federal and states levels of the United Sates government. Research has revealed that about half the members of the Congress have at one time served in their respective state legislatures, which implies that they make obvious potential state cheerleaders. The political analysts have further assessed that while the federal lawmakers recognize the role of the state in the legislations that they introduce to their respective houses, it is evident that most of these legislations are not friendly to the states. They have recognized that a political disconnect has been created thereby leading to rivalry between the state and federal governments.
The State and Federal Governments Might be Working Together
Despite the general assumptions and conclusions reached by several political experts, others have weighed the option that these levels of the governments might be working together towards a common goal. According to the this school of thought, the founding fathers who wrote the constitution of the United States considered the possibility of have a central governance system that disallows the lower levels of the government to take part in important decisions making. Additionally, some experts have also defined the federal and the state governments to represent the family, where the family members represent the states and the father represents the federal government. The state governments and the federal government are part of the same body, working together toward the attainment of national goals. Most of the federal legislations, apart from those that relate to national interest, are usually aimed at the state governments (Finucane, 2012). The legislators represent their respective states in the House of Representatives and Senate. Therefore, despite the fact that most people feel that there have been breakdowns in the relations between the federal and state governments, the aforementioned reasons could mean that these level of governments have strong relations and the White House administration has always ensured that the levels of government coordinate their activities to avoid controversies and miscommunication.
Even before analyzing the relations between the state and federal governments of the United States, the best question that should be raised is that, what should be the operational relationships between the federal and states governments. Every person would argue that the best way to solve problems is by ensuring that the solutions are sought at the lowest level possible. In this manner, the federal government should majorly be concerned with matters of national interest such as national security, interstate trade and any other assigned responsibilities. Over the years, there have been several amendments to the constitution, which bring about different reactions and views on the relations between these levels of governance. While some people believe that the federal government has neglected the state governments, or that the state governments have developed defiance to the federal government, others believe that the two bodies still operate according to their constitutional provisions and have always worked towards a common goal.
With the view that the federal-state relation has inclined more and more toward national supremacy in the last two hundred years, it means that the federal government has previously overtaken the state governments in their responsibilities. Nevertheless, certain political observers and analysts assert that in the past two decades, the balance of power is beginning to shift to the state governments. The banner of new federalism, which has been practiced by presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Regan, George Bush, and debatably the current Obama administrations, evidences this devolution of power. Additionally, some studies carried out to determine the thoughts of political analysts proved that the federal-state relations have faced several setbacks in the recent past. This study identified five factors that are considered to provide loopholes in this relationship. These factors include reauthorization of federal laws, competitive grants, waiver authority, loss in institutional connections, and political disconnect between the two levels of government.
The facts that support the deteriorations in federal-state relations far outweigh the assumptions that these bodies of governance still work as they used to in the immediate postcolonial era. Therefore, in my conclusion, I believe that the state governments have shown defiance to the federal government and I foresee a future where the state governments will seek independence from the federal government.
Bulman-Pozen J. (April 2012). Federalism as a Safeguard of the Separation of Powers. Columbia Law Review. Vol. 112.
Aves L. (June 2012). Human Services Programs: The Relationship between Federal, State, and Local Governments. House Research. Retrieved from http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/ss/sshsprog.pdf
Tubbesing C. (7 August 2013). States vs. Feds: The growing schism between states and the federal government makes for a difficult and deteriorating relationship, with a few exceptions. Federalism.
Sen A, & Stevens G., (2013). CSG Initiative Aims to restore laboratories of Democracy. Focus on Federalism.
De leeuw, M. B. (2012). The New Judicial Federalism: State Constitutions and the Protection of the Individual Right to Bear Arms. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 39(5), 1449-1502.
Chung-Lae, C., & Wright, D. S. (2004). The Devolution Revolution in Intergovernmental Relations in the 1990s: Changes in Cooperative and Coercive State-National Relations as Perceived by State Administrators. Journal Of Public Administration Research & Theory, 14(4), 447-468. doi:10.1093/jopart/muh031
Finucane, B. (2012). Fictitious States, Effective Control, and the Use of Force against Non-State Actors. Berkeley Journal of International Law, 30(1), 35-93