I feel almost guilty about the title of this article because by the time I was finished with the research it was clear that the answer was probably no. At one point it looked like there was hope that a group of governors would stand up against irrational and dangerous federal spending and refuse to accept money (and the strings attached to it) from the so-called stimulus plan, but as we get close to the passage of the bill that hope seems to be fading.
When the TARP bill passed and there was discussion of an additional stimuls bill there was a lot of murmuring among governors and state legislators about any money for the states coming with mandates attached which would burden the states with future spending and interference from the feds. Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina who is associated with the libertarian-leaning Republican Liberty Caucus led the opposition and spoke out against the federal spending package on states rights principles. Surprisingly rumors and speculation were strong in Texas that Governor Rick Perry would also reject federal stimulus money, with the strength of a relatively healthy economy behind him. Other governors expressing concern and potential opposition to the stimuls bill included Sarah Palin of Alaska, Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. With Sanford as head of the Republican Governor’s Association there was some hope that he might swing that group behind a boycott of federal money. He would certainly have popular support for such a campaign, with calls to congressional offices running hundreds to one against the bill and influential fiscal responsibility group Americans for Prosperity circulating a petition against the “no stimulus” bill which is getting a lot of publicity.
But there’s a reason why the bill includes so much money for certain special interest groups. It’s not a coincidence that it includes billions for unscrupulous grassroots organizations like ACORN and tens of billions of earmarks for educational programs to win the support of the powerful teachers unions. Lobbyists for the construction and auto industries and for the educational establishment have really turned up the pressure in DC and at state legislatures to make sure that they get their share of the spending bonanza. The United Federation of Teachers even bussed teachers and their students to DC to show their support at the capitol. The NEA which is the largest of the teachers unions really pulled out the all the stops with lobbying and letterwriting campaigns to remind legislators nationwide who can turn out the votes and the money to get them reelected.
The result is that by this week it looks like any hope that governors will be able to block the spending bill and refuse federal money and the interference and further federal control that comes with it is fading away. State legislators in Texas were up in arms and wanted their money and were looking for a way to end-run the governor and take the federal funds without his approval. The key fight came in South Carolina where Governor Sanford wanted to stick with this principles but was struggling because of budget problems and high unemployment. He made his position on the issue very clear when he summed up the essence of the problem with the stimulus bill in the Wall Street Journal:
“Federal appetites may know no bounds. But the federal government’s ability to borrow is not limitless. Already, our nation’s unfunded liabilities total $52 trillion — about $450,000 per household. There’s something very strange about issuing debt to solve a problem caused by too much debt.”
Not wanting to miss their ride on the gravy train, South Carolina legislators took the decision out of his hands by getting their man in DC, house majority whip Jim Clyburn to add a provision to the stimulus bill which will allow state legislatures to authorize spending of federal funds if they don’t get gubernatorial approval within 45 days of passage. Clyburn has no love for Sanford and his addition to the bill was clearly intended as a political rebuke to Sanford and the states-rights principles he stands for.
This provision in the stimulus bill basically means that even if governors oppose the stimulus package and want to block it, they will have no voice in the process. So now all of the governors who might have opposed the massive imposition of federal spending and obligations on their states are powerless. The implications for the future are ominous, because if this bill stands as a precedent it transfers a huge amount of power away from state governments and to the congress, taking away any ability of states to determine their own fiscal policies when federal funds are involved.
The inclusion of this rule is troubling because there is very little question that it is blatantly unconstitutional and a clear violation of the 10th Amendment. It’s a big stretch interpret the constitution to allow for the Congress to force money on the states and then force them to accept federal government dictates on how to spend that money. This creates a situation reminiscent of the case in Schechter Poultry vs. the United States where the Supreme Court struck down the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 for giving powers to the federal government which were not granted to it constitutionally. It may also run afoul of the ruling in New York vs. the United States which ruled that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to force state governments to act as its agents. The passage of the stimulus bill with this inclusion may lead to legal challenges from some states and legal rights groups. If it does not, the danger of the precedent it will set in weakening state autonomy is frightening.
So the bad news is that despite the best efforts of a few heroes like Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, craven state legislators and power-hungry Democrats in Congress have assured that the massive stimulus spending will go into effect over the objection of concerned governors. In doing this Congress may well have precipitated a constitutional crisis and it is clear that the last remaining hope for those who want fiscally responsible government and oppose this massive deficit spending bill lies with legal challenges in the courts, and ultimately on the slender hope that the Supreme Court will block this massive expansion of federal power and affirm the validity of the 10th Amendment.