Call it fiscal federalism or just plain old Tenth Amendment absolutism.
Those who believe the federal government shouldn’t pay for anything that isn’t specifically spelled out in the Constitution are a driving – albeit, relatively quiet – force in this year’s election. They have an ally in Darryl Glenn, the El Paso County commissioner who’s the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
So, what exactly is fiscal federalism?
The idea relates to “nullification” – the belief that states have a right to nullify any federal law that a state asserts is unconstitutional. The Tenth Amendment says that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” It’s the amendment cited by conservatives and libertarians when they argue that states should have more control over taxes and public lands, among others.
In Glenn’s view, fiscal federalism means reforming the federal tax code to eliminate any program that isn’t specifically authorized in the U.S. Constitution.
Glenn isn’t alone in believing in a tax plan that would cut federal programs. It’s also a plank in the platform of the national Libertarian Party, which was formed in Colorado Springs in the early 1970s.
Glenn’s views are shared by his biggest campaign contributor, the Senate Conservatives Fund. The fund is run by former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the president of the Heritage Foundation, which also espouses fiscal federalism. Heritage Action, the political advocacy wing of the Foundation, published an essay several years ago that discussed the idea of discontinuing programs and agencies not named in the Constitution. The essay, penned by Heritage Action deputy communications director Ashe Schow, identified the Department of Education, the Department of Energy and the National Labor Relations Board as agencies that should get the ax.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, the Senate Conservatives Fund has funnelled $1.4 million into Glenn’s campaign in the last two months, and is by far the biggest direct contributor to Glenn’s campaign. The Fund has given much lesser amounts to other Republican U.S. Senate candidates.
Glenn has been championing fiscal federalism at least since last November. On his Facebook page, he called the U.S. tax code “cumbersome, bureaucratic and a deterrent to a robust economy. A legitimate tax reform policy must recognize that the purpose of a tax system in a free society should be to fund services that are authorized by the Constitution. Taxes should not be used to redistribute wealth and fund unnecessary or ineffective programs.”
He continued to talk about his tax reform ideas throughout the primary season. In April, he reportedly told the audience at a candidates’ forum in Sterling that tax policy should fund only the core services defined by the Constitution.
So what else isn’t in the Constitution? There are 20 major federal programs that aren’t authorized in the Constitution, such as Social Security, Medicare, national parks, firefighting on public lands, the G.I. bill, Pell grants, the FBI, the CIA and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Would Glenn support defunding those as well? Or would he prefer to see those programs funded on a state-by-state basis? His campaign did not respond to requests for comment. We’ll update this story if and when we hear back.
Photo courtesy of Darryl Glenn campaign