modest proposal/patriotism thread
isomin at gmu.edu
isomin at gmu.edu
Sat Jan 28 21:00:05 PST 2006
Like a number of other serious political problems, the phenomenon of small states using the one-state-one vote rule in the Senate to redistribute money to themselves is largely a product of the expansion of government in the New Deal era. The practice of targeting federal funds to politically critical states was one pioneered by FDR and the New Deal Congress (they weren't the first to do it at all, but were the first to do it on a large scale). In the 19th and early 20th century, there were very few federal grants to state governments and the majority view in the political and legal communities was that grants for purely "local" projects were outside the scope of Congress' powers under the Spending Clause. In some of the few cases where such grants were nonetheless enacted, they were vetoed by the president on constitutional grounds (Madison, Grover Cleveland, and several other 19th century presidents all cast vetoes of this type).
With the federal government unable (in most cases) to give money to state governments, the malapportionment of the Senate did not cause nearly as much harm as it does today, when the accepted constitutional norm is that Congress can spend money on virtually any project it wants.
I do not mean to cast the blame solely on liberal Democrats. Since the rules of the game changed in the 1930s, conservative Republicans have been no less eager to play the small state porkbarrel game. But, ultimately, if we want to fix the problem, we need to change the structure of incentives we have inherited from FDR and his political allies.
Assistant Professor of Law
George Mason University School of Law
3301 Fairfax Dr.
Arlington, VA 22201
e-mail: isomin at gmu.edu
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