Task force pleads Tenth
Lawmakers seek to keep mandates at bay
WASHINGTON — Violation of the Constitution. Massive, hostile takeover. A dangerous situation.
Tenth Amendment enthusiasts are sounding an alarm not as old as “The British are coming!” but one heard many times in America’s history.
These enthusiasts are worried about keeping marauding hordes of federal mandates at bay. San Angelo Congressman Mike Conaway and Abilene Congressman Randy Neugebauer are among 10 conservative House Republicans who recently formed the Tenth Amendment Task Force to do just that.
“We are pretty fierce defenders of the Tenth Amendment,” Conaway said.
In case you’ve forgotten high school government class, the Tenth Amendment basically says, whatever powers the Constitution doesn’t give to the federal government or bar the states from having belong to the states or the people.
This idea — powers divvied up between a central government and states — is also known as “federalism.” The task force’s stance sounds familiar from way back to a pair of experts on federalism and the law.
Politicians have raised those same concerns, when convenient, going back to debates about slavery in the 1800s and civil rights in the 1960s, said the experts from Washington-based George Washington University.
“It’s a rare politician, I find, who has a real commitment to federalism,” Jonathan R. Siegel, a GWU law professor, said.
It’s a great idea to consider how the federal government’s actions affect states, Siegel said.
“I think what’s really happening is when people are against something the federal government wants to do, suddenly they’re all interested in states’ rights,” Siegel said. “When they support what the federal government wants to do, suddenly they don’t care so much.”
Republicans have sought a federal law requiring all states to recognize certain gun permits issued by other states, Siegel said. They also wanted a constitutional amendment defining marriage.
Democrats have historically supported federal action, GWU constitutional law professor Peter J. Smith said in a separate telephone interview. But the left protested the No Child Left Behind Act, saying it shackled states’ educational process.
It’s no secret Republicans hope to gain control of the House through midterm elections. Back in the 1990s, when Republicans retook the House, they ran in part on a platform of giving power back to the states, Smith said.
“Then they proceeded after taking office to propose nationalizing all tort law and regulating abortion from the federal level,” he said.
Conaway doesn’t appear to be a fan of nationalizing anything. The Midland Republican said the task force could make a difference by educating the public about the Tenth Amendment.
“The Tenth Amendment idea is very powerful in and of itself, and so the more people who know it and understand it, then the easier it will be to help avoid violations of it,” Conaway said.
The task force’s concerns should resonate with Tea Party supporters who call for limited government and with others, including the Tenth Amendment Center’s proponents.
The self-styled “national think tank” and activism promoter has a Texas contingent headed by state coordinator Brian Roberts, a 38-year-old Dallas-area entrepreneur who runs a software company.
Roberts is firm about states’ power, but he’s not a secessionist.
“If states individually are able to do what they need to do, there’s absolutely no reason for secession at all,” Roberts said.
For Neugebauer, health care reform mandating Americans must buy insurance or pay a penalty sounded an alarm.
“Many members, including myself, are very concerned about this massive hostile takeover by the government of the liberties and freedoms of the American people,” the Republican from Lubbock said.
McMurry University political science professor Paul Fabrizio said the goal of the task force is admirable. Clearly, the Abilene-based professor said, the balance of federalism has been moving toward the federal government for a long time. “It’s what we call creeping federalism, and some would argue it’s now galloping federalism with more and more power going to the federal government,” Fabrizio said.
The federal government’s power is growing because the American people and the states are willing to accept federal money spent on their behalf, Fabrizio said.
“That’s the part of the equation that I think people aren’t talking about."
People don’t want the federal government in their lives, but they want the federal government’s money, he said.
“I would imagine that most people in Abilene want Dyess Air Force Base here,” Fabrizio said. “They want the spending that comes from that.”
Social Security payments, farm subsidies and federal stimulus funds are all from the federal government.
“The crushing reality that we all face is that the federal government has money, which it basically prints, and so to accomplish things, we need its help,” Fabrizio said.