Federalism, one of the most important principles incorporated in the Constitution of this nation, is a political system in which the power is shared between the national and state governments.
Not only does this system help limit the powers of the national government as a whole, it also helps increase the power of the state governments which is crucial in maintaining a balanced government. In the article, Federalism: Battles on the Front Lines of Public Policy, Donald Kettl, the author, addresses three different types of federalism to show the relationship among the national and state governments. While federalism may have a few weaknesses, the strengths of this system far outweigh those weaknesses. The role of federalism has strengthened our democracy through fiscal federalism which helps the country benefit and develop, administrative federalism which strengthens the powers of the state governments, and the tenth amendment which reserves powers for the states and the people. To begin, federalism strengthens our democracy through fiscal federalism which is one of the ways to show the financial relationship among the different levels of government (national, state and local governments).
In other words, the national government was able to accomplish its goals, such as creating the interstate highway system, by offering grants to the local and state governments. Fiscal federalism strengthens our democracy by sidestepping a constitutional limit on the interference of the national government in state and local issues as the national government did not force state and local governments to join the programs, it simply made them financially irresistible.
No state or local official wanted to have to explain to constituents why they left cheap money on the table (53). Fiscal federalism also managed to create a direct link between the national and local governments to take on the problems of the nation. Fiscal federalism directly strengthens our democracy because by offering grants to state and local governments, national projects that people (citizens) wanted the country to undertake were able to be completed. Such projects include the interstate highway system since all the roads were bumpy and made cross country travel difficult. The desire to improve the country’s condition both financially and physically was the core idea of fiscal federalism. Administrative federalism is another example of how federalism helps strengthen our democracy as in this system, the national government has employed the state and local governments as national agents to complete its work. This allows the states to be at the front of national programs allowing them to make crucial decisions. For example, Kettl talks about the role of state governments in Environmental Protection Agency (issuing permits and monitoring emissions) and how some states used this role to to set their own policies[which]in practice, set policy for the entire nation (55). California is one of those states that set their own policy for the production of cars to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. While this is not a national law, other states have slowly begun to follow California by adopting the same or similar policies which in turn may force the national government to make this policy a law. Such states pose a challenge to centralized government as other states are slowly adopting the same policies which could then sway the national government to follow the law that certain states (which are not centralized) have imposed upon the nation. This strengthens our democracy as the states now have the power to set the policy for the entire nation which helps restrict the centralized powers of the national government which in essence is the decentralization of power. Not only do fiscal and administrative federalism strengthen our democracy, the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution does so as well. This amendment reserves the unstated powers in the Constitution to the states and the people, not the federal government. In essence, the Tenth Amendment confines the federal government to their delegated roles or enumerated powers. As stated by Linda Monk in The Words We Live By, the Tenth Amendment creates a debate over federalism[where] some argued in favor of states’ rights[while] others defended nationalism (199). Those who support states’ rights are essentially supporting dual sovereignty where the national and state governments have control of different realms of government while those who support nationalism support the notion that the federal government is supreme over the states. This amendment defines federalism at its core as it tries to share power between the federal government and the state governments. It helps to strengthen our democracy as it delegates the powers of the government that are not explicitly stated to the states and the people. In a democracy, the power of the government is within the people and the Tenth Amendment, essentially, is strengthening the democracy by giving implied powers to the states and the people. While federalism strengthens democracy in plenty of ways, it also weakens democracy in a number of ways. To begin, some types of grants (especially the unfunded grants) severely weaken democracy as federal government is forcing their policies onto the state and local governments. Such grants include categorical grants which are grants given for a specific purpose and federal mandates which can be funded or unfunded that force the state and local governments to do what the national government commands them to do. These types of grants severely limit where the states choose to spend the money given to them by the government (or out of their own treasury) not allowing the states to benefit their people even if they want to. In simple terms, the states cannot invest the money where their constituents want them to. Another way federalism can weaken democracy is administrative federalism. While this system allows the states to be at the forefront of national policies and make crucial decisions, as Kettl states in the article, there is a profound risk that the nation could find its policy strategies increasingly evolving through accidental bits and bumps, without a national debate about what is truly in the national interest (56). In simpler terms, these decisions made by one state and adopted by other states may not reflect what the national interest of the people. This is a direct relationship as to how federalism can restrict democracy as the people have the power in this system and that power is not being reflected when a single state is able to set the policy for the entire nation. Ultimately, the role of federalism has strengthened our democracy through the system of fiscal federalism which helps the country develop and progress, administrative federalism which allows the states to take crucial decisions at the front of national programs, and the Tenth Amendment which reserves the unstated powers of the Constitution for the states and the people. Fiscal federalism and administrative federalism help strengthen the power of the national and state governments, respectively, which in turn strengthens our democracy by helping the country progress. The Tenth Amendment directly gives power that is not expressly stated in the Constitution to the states and the people which is a directly reinforces democracy. In the end, federalism plays a major role in democracy as one could not exist without the creation of the other.