There is no way to sugarcoat this. The US government has utterly failed its citizens. On the coronoavirus pandemic, it has blithely told the states to find their own personal protection equipment, their own ventilators, and their own test kits. It has appropriated nearly $3 trillion in emergency payments to help small business cope with the wrenching economic upheavals brought on by the virus, but the bulk of the money is going to multi-national corporations. 80% of the tax relief baked into to CARES stimulus package will wind up in the pockets of those earning more than $1 million a year.
It gets worse. States and municipalities are hemorrhaging money because much of their income depends on sales tax receipts. When no one is buying anything, there’s no money coming in. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could care less. Now that his major campaign donors have gotten their pound of flesh, he thinks any states that are in financial trouble should just file bankruptcy — which would wipe out much of the pension and health insurance obligations to the workers who have devoted their lives to public service. The coup de grace came this week when the alleged president told Americans to inject bleach into their veins.
Conservatives who follow the insane, hardline policies promoted by Charles Koch for the past 50 years have succeeded in doing precisely what they said all along what they wanted to do — shrink the size of government until it was small enough to drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub. Forget any thought of a social safety net. Forget social security, Medicare, Medicaid, school lunches, daycare, or health insurance.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carole, Scrooge demands of two colleagues asking him for a yuletide charitable donation, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” After being told there are plenty of such dismal institutions but that many would rather die than go to one, he intones, “Then they had better do it, and reduce the surplus population.” Charles Dickens, meet Mitch McConnell, the fabulously wealthy senator who objects so violently to anyone getting ten cents from the public fisc, unless, of course, that someone is a wealthy campaign donor.
States Explore Banding Together
The New York Times reports that the governors of several states are exploring ways of cooperating with each other as they struggle with the challenges that beset their governments as a result of the coronavirus. The governors of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have formed an alliance to coordinate the reopening of their states are weeks of virus related shutdowns, according to The Hill.
On the west coast, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington are working on a similar joint working agreement, says the Times. Even central and Midwestern states are working together. The as-yet-unnamed alliance includes Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, according to Minnesota News. It should be noted that several governors involved in these pacts are Republicans.
Taken together, the 17 states involved in these informal cooperation agreements are home to about half of all Americans and are responsible for more than half of the country’s GDP.
Articles Of Confederation
Governor Tom Walz of Minnesota tells The Times that the Midwestern alliance is “sort of a loose Articles of Confederation approach.” The Times suggests the Union as Americans have known for centuries “may be beginning to fray.”
The people who wrote the Constitution wrestled with the problem of regional affiliations between the states, which they feared would lead to civil war or invite foreign meddling in the internal affairs of the new nation. So they added Article 1, Section 10, Clause 3: “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State …”
The Port Authority of New York was created by an agreement between the two states, but it was blessed by Congress. Does that mean these three alliances will also require congressional approval? Not necessarily. In Virginia v. Tennessee — an 1893 case based on a boundary dispute — the Supreme Court ruled that interstate compacts require congressional authorization only when they claim new powers for the states that they did not have before or if they intrude on federal prerogatives. The states that have decided to work together will not add any new powers by doing so.
These regional coalitions should be seen as a positive development for our deadlocked, dysfunctional nation and could even be expanded to focus on other issues, The New York Times says. There are 10 federal judicial districts. The Federal Reserve has 12 regional districts. The Census Bureau splits the country into nine divisions. The Department of Transportation designates 13 “megaregions.”
A New Federalism?
Are regional alliances a new tool that could solve the conflict between states rights and federalism that has been going on since the nation was formed? Under a new federalism, not every issue would need to be decided in Washington, but that will require concessions and compromises. In that regard, The Times asks some highly relevant questions.
“Would liberals who today cheer the state formations object to a group of Republican-led Southern states, for instance, forming a league to forge their own policy direction (regarding coronavirus or anything else) under a Democratic presidency?
“Are progressives in the Pacific states willing to see abortion banned in the South if it means securing a regional pact to provide universal health insurance to every person, citizen or otherwise, in those western states? Are conservatives in the heartland prepared to accept severely reduced federal subsidies in exchange for more autonomy? As both the pandemic and its economic effects continue to tear at the country’s already strained bonds, the answer on both sides may increasingly be “yes.” “
Facing The Climate Crisis
As harrowing as the coronavirus crisis is and will continue to be, it will be a walk in the park compared to the destruction coming from rising seas, massive flooding, and more powerful storms as the planet continues to overheat. Perhaps regional compacts could allow states to align their policies to address such challenge in the face of a federal government that refuses to lift a finger to help protect its citizens from the impending disaster.
Regional compacts might be the way to control and fend off national dissolution rather than accelerate it, The Times suggests. “The form of the United States of America would be retained, but limited to something more akin to a loose league like the Articles of Confederation. The constituent pieces of this new Union would be eight to 12 regions, between the states and the federal government, which would take on many of the responsibilities of both.”
Think of it as an extension of the county system that many states use to mediate between the power of the state government and that of the cities and towns. “This new Union might be more responsive to the needs of ordinary people, more attuned to the ecological impact of human actions. Rather than a plan for less government, this kind of reorganization could clear away the obstacles for a more active, energetic one — at least in the places that want it,” The Times says.
Those of you who are students of American history are well aware of the ongoing struggle between the ideas of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Echoes of that struggle continue even today. The efforts of the Federalist Society, bankrolled by the Koch Brothers and other right wing advocates, has succeeded in eviscerating the federal government and left nothing behind but chaos. The issue for America now is, what’s next?