Making government smaller and transferring responsibilities from the feds to the states aren’t really the same thing. But did you ever notice how Repubs tend to use them interchangeably?
Let’s put a couple of answers from the Sunday morning debate transcript – one from Rick Santorum and one from Mitt Romney – under the microscope to make the point.
Moderator David Gregory asked Rick Santorum to name three things he would do to shrink government that would impose some pain on current beneficiaries of federal programs.
Santorum started with something that took the question seriously. He wants to reduce entitlement benefits for wealthier recipients. (There is already some means-testing of Social Security and Medicare, but presumably he wants more. Personally, that’s something I would consider.) But then Santorum segued into this:
Santorum: “Foods stamps is another place. We gotta block grant and send it back to the states, just like I did on welfare reform. Do the same thing with Medicare. Those three programs. We gotta– and– and– and including– housing programs, block grant them, send it back to the states, require work and put a time limit.”
Okay, I’m not trying to call attention to his syntax. I take it he meant that the three programs he would “block grant and send to the states” are food stamps, Medicare and housing programs.
Two problems. If the feds simply send the same amount of money to the states and let them administer the programs, that won’t save any money unless you assume that states can do the same job more efficiently which, so far as I know, is wishful thinking. And secondly, despite the inherently greater efficiency and familiarity with local mores that Santorum assumes resides in the states, he nonetheless wants the federal block grants to come with strings in the form of “require work and put a time limit.”
Now here’s Romney:
MITT ROMNEY: “Well, what– what we don’t need is to have– a federal government saying, “We’re gonna solve all the problems of poverty– across the entire country.” Because the– what it means to be poor in Massachusetts is different than Montana, Mississippi and other places in the country. And that’s why these programs, all these federal programs that are bundled to help people and make sure we have a safety net, need to be brought together and sent back to the states.
And let states that are closest to the needs of their own people craft the programs that are d– able to deal with their– the needs of those folks. So you– you– whether it’s food stamps and housing vouchers, they’re certainly on the list, but certainly Medicaid– home– home heating oil– support. What unfortunately happens is with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead, with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs, very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.
These– they– government– folks in Washington keep building program after program. It’s time to say, “Enough of that.” Let’s get the money back to the states, the way the Constitution intended, and let states care for their own people, in the way they feel best.”
As someone who follows the Constitutional stuff closely, it was that last bit that got me going.
The tenthers and states’ righters who predominate on the Republican right have a reasonable historical argument that the modern federal government does a great many things that weren’t in the minds of the framers in 1787. But if you really believe the tenther stuff about federal power being limited to the relatively few things that are explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, then most federal activity goes away, including a lot of things that nobody except maybe Ron Paul to suggest abolishing.
The Constitution doesn’t mention health insurance or pensions or food stamps. It does authorize Congress to do things that promote the “general welfare.” But if you’re not willing to accept that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disaster relief, home heating fuel subsidies for the poor in the winter, etc. etc. are covered by the general welfare language, then you cannot find anything to suggest that the Constitution empowers the federal government to act as a tax collector for the states and just send them money (presumably redistributing it along the way from the wealthier states to the poor ones) to use for those same purposes.
The only thing that would really make sense for a sincere Tenther would be to say that the feds should get out of all those areas and let each state decide for itself whether it wants to do anything about health, education, welfare or incomes for old people or just let the freedom handle it.
When Romney says block grants to the states is “what the Constitution intended,” what explicit Constitutional provision could he possibly be talking about?
To be perfectly blunt, if the righty/tenther/Tea Partiers are serious in what they constantly say about the Constitution, they really need to level with us and admit that what they advocate is not reform all those federal programs but doing away with them.