Should we drastically shrink the federal government?



Cartoon depicting a Senate filibuster by artist John T. McCutcheon, published in the Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1928. Image from the United States Senate

Dave Meredith, Staff Reporter

In most election cycles, swing states are outnumbered by solid Democratic or Republican states. In the last presidential election, 42 states voted in favor of either Joe Biden or Donald Trump by a margin greater than 5%. 

Vermont voted 66% in favor of Joe Biden, and Wyoming voted 69% in favor of Donald Trump. From a policy perspective, it might be challenging to find commonalities between these two states. The same is true for the many other states that voted heavily in favor of one party. 

Since state governments are more closely tied to the citizens of their respective states, their policies and legislative agendas are more aligned with the people. Conversely, at the federal level, the government reflects the views of Americans from various regions of the country, which creates a diverse, and often divisive, environment. 

Gridlock at the federal level is a feature, not a bug. The founders intentionally designed our Constitution to produce compromise and gridlock in our governmental structure. The founders also gave the federal government supremacy over the states. This puts partisan states in a difficult position when Democrats or Republicans pass controversial legislation at the federal level with no minority party input. 

In recent years, we have already seen states and localities ignore or threaten to ignore federal policy. For example, numerous liberal cities, counties and states have called themselves a “sanctuary” on the issue of illegal immigration. This means that the local officials will disregard federal immigration policy while obstructing enforcement. In the event that the federal government bolsters new gun control measures, some conservative states have discussed declaring themselves “sanctuary states” to protect gun rights.

States like California and Texas, have previously introduced independence referendums as a result of growing tensions in recent years. 

As previously mentioned, the federal government maintains superiority over the states. Measures of defiance could be struck down by the federal government. However, that would require the federal government to actively step in to enforce the policy without the help of the state. 

The United States Senate still has the filibuster rule, which currently prevents consequential swings in federal policy. The filibuster is a mechanism that produces bipartisanship by requiring 60 votes in the Senate to pass all legislative initiatives, excluding revenue and spending bills that require a simple majority (or 51 votes). Some prominent Democrats have considered and even endorsed the idea of eradicating the filibuster to ram through their policy priorities. Just two moderate Democratic senators stand in their way, publicly opposing such a change. 

I pose this question to Democrats who support its elimination: What happens when the shoe is on the other foot?

A more unlikely possibility that could disrupt the relationship between states and the federal government would be if either the Democrats or the Republicans acquired 60 seats in the Senate. That party would also need to simultaneously control both the House and the White House, a difficult feat. 

The current political polarization in American politics is readily visible. If the pendulum of public policy swings too far to the left or the right, the system as we know it could erode.  

As a nation, it is in our best interest to put greater attention and power back into state hands. The federal government has grown vastly beyond its intended purpose. Washington is out of touch. In most cases, a conservative from rural Ohio arguing with a San Francisco liberal sounds counterproductive. 

If the federal government reverted to focusing on policies strictly related to national interests like defense and homeland security, liberal and conservative states could implement more effective policies that are popular among their residents.