The Framers of the Constitution envisioned a federal government of limited and defined powers, with most governmental activity taking place at the state and local levels. This fundamental principle of "federalism," embodied in the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has been circumvented in recent decades as the federal government has infringed on state sovereignty and concentrated more power in Washington. Senator Thompson has been working to reverse this trend and to return power to states and communities. He has been an independent voice for a smaller federal government, and has cast his vote against measures to federalize what should be state and local issues.
There is renewed interest in the relationship between the federal government, states and localities as Congress seeks to improve the effectiveness of federal programs and determine which programs are best administered at the state or local levels. The federal presence in state and local government is large, witnessed by the fact that federal grants comprise 23 percent of total state spending. However, many things required by the federal government are never paid for by the federal government. Senator Thompson is concerned with the imposition of unfunded federal mandates on state and local governments, which force our nation's governor's, mayors, and other state and local elected officials to raise taxes or cut services in order to pay for them.
The Tenth Amendment was designed to protect states from Washington's big government tendencies ? but this pillar of our Democracy was attacked by the Clinton Administration. In 1998, President Clinton tried to overturn the long-standing Reagan executive order on federalism with a new order that justified federal intervention in state and local affairs. Senator Thompson offered an amendment on the Senate floor, which passed unanimously, calling on the President to revoke his executive order. The new executive order was suspended shortly thereafter.
In June of 1999, Senator Thompson introduced the Federalism Accountability Act of 1999 (S. 1214). The bill was approved by a bi-partisan vote of 12-2 by the Governmental Affairs Committee in August of that year, but did not pass the Senate prior to the end of the 106th Congress. The Federal Accountability Act would have required the report accompanying any public bill or joint resolution from a Senate and House committee or conference report to contain an explicit statement on the extent to which the bill or resolution preempts state or local government law and the reasons for this preemption. The Act would also have established a rule of construction providing that courts would not construe a statute or regulation to preempt state or local law unless the statute or regulation explicitly stated that such preemption was intended or unless there was a direct conflict with state law.
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