Thursday, July 19, 2012

States Rights? Not When It Comes to Funding

There aren't many things the Republican Party has been consistent about for the past several years, but defending rights of states over that of the federal government is one of them. And, the latest controversial Supreme Court ruling merely confirms that. In his interpretation of the Commerce Clause, Chief Justice Roberts reinforces his federalist stance.

From Ron Paul to John McCain to Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney, one thing may be counted on and that is the oft-repeated call for "smaller government," and shrinking the federal payroll.

But, the irony is inescapable. Those who want to empower the states most, whether it be to participate in Medicaid expansion, or to allow the unrestricted sale of guns also want to dramatically decrease federal endowments to states at a time when such cuts are most disastrous.

Consider, as The New York Times reports, three cities in California alone have either filed for bankruptcy, or are on the verge of filing for bankruptcy: Stockton, Mammoth Lake, and San Bernardino. Not to mention, too, that back in 2008, Vallejo declared bankruptcy.

Until the 1930's, it was illegal for cities to file for bankruptcy protection. We've come a long way baby, and the Republican federalist platform will take us a long way farther down that road.

Notably, bankruptcy isn't the only measurement of a state's insolvency. Many cities across the country have had to close fire stations, reduce the size of their police force, lay off teachers, and postpone reconstruction of ailing roads. Many courts have had to cut their hours. Many cities from San Jose to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Madison, Wisconsin are in the grips of a pension crisis. And, as The Huffington Post reported last month, minority neighborhoods are the ones hardest hit by "blighted, bank-owned homes."

Two years ago, a financial analyst told 60 Minutes that a hundred cities could go belly up by 2011. That hasn't happened, yet, but unless some decisive action is taken by the federal government, many more cities will file for bankruptcy protection in the coming months and years, especially under President Romney.

Rest assured that we won't see anything like the American Recovery Act President Obama put in place the first year he took office in a Romney administration, the bill that came to be known as the stimulus, one that was roundly criticized by both Republicans and Democrats alike. Republicans, of course, claiming that it led to bigger government, and some Democrats claiming it didn't go far enough.

While President Obama has worked for granting emergency aid to states, his efforts have consistently been met with obstructionism by Republicans in Congress whose goal has been not merely to shrink the government, but to shrink Mr. Obama's tenure in the White House.

But, the fiscal crisis in the states is heating up. In a report released earlier this week by the State Budget Task Force, according to the TimesTimes calls a "fundamental shift in the way the governments have responded to recessions" signals "a willingness to 'unbuild' state government in a way that has not been done before."

Make no mistake, this unbuilding of state government hasn't happened instantly either, but is the logical evolution of an ideology that calls for "smaller government," meaning defunding states while, simultaneously, espousing the primacy of states over the federal government in everything from interstate commerce, e.g. gun sales to Medicaid expansion to, down the road, a woman's right to choose.

It is undeniably hard to hold a nation together when states are sinking, particularly a nation that calls itself the United States.

Don't be surprised if, over the next few months, you hear campaign ads by the incumbent proclaim that Mitt Romney wants to cut teachers, firefighters, and law enforcement. What this means is that, should the former Massachusetts governor prevail in his bid for the presidency, you can bet on one thing. Despite advocating for states rights in virtually every respect, Mr. Romney may be counted on to best please his constituency by promoting tax breaks to corporations over fiscal stability for states.

So, when you hear the Republican battle cry that they want "smaller government," what they really mean is that they want fewer police officers, firefighters, and teachers, fewer federal subsidies to the states, but more federal subsidies to the war cartel, the oil companies, farms, big pharmaceutical companies, and of course WalMart.

Even if President Obama is reelected, if he is faced with a Republican Congress, despite his best efforts, he will not be able to enact the kind of legislation that is needed to prevent a financial forest fire among the states without a coooperative Congress. Remember that when you go to the polls in November.