With the global outbreak of COVID-19 and the resulting tremors in our national economy, eyes are on our federal government as it confronts these issues while protecting citizens and allegiance to the principles of democracy and federalism. Today we bring a unique contribution to this conversation from Senator James L. Buckley, who has served in every branch of the federal government over the last five decades. Senator Buckley’s bestselling book Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People, originally published in 2014, offers a simple program for reform that would restore responsibility and decision-making to the states while also freeing Congress to focus on important national issues like immigration.
Senator Buckley agreed to share his insights into how decisions are made at the federal level and how the principles of the Constitutions can help guide the government in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
What’s the main message of Saving Congress from Itself?
Congress’s addiction to vote-generating grants to the states for purposes that are the states’ exclusive business is imposing unacceptable financial and systemic costs on our country. The directives attached to grants undermine the states’ ability to manage their own affairs. They divert Congress from addressing critical matters only Washington can handle (e.g. immigration). And, they waste hundreds of billions of dollars – all as documented in the book.
You first published this book in 2014. Is there anything you would want to go back and add from the past six years?
In proposing my reforms, I should have focused on stripping such grants of federal directives and not speculated about ultimately phasing them out. Simply converting current grants programs into regulation-free block grants will safeguard federalism while resulting in major financial savings at both the state and federal levels.
How would your book’s recommendations help guide the state governors in responding to the current coronavirus crisis?
By ensuring that federal relief funds did not come with congressional instructions on how they are to be used, it would ensure that governors and other stat officias, who are politically responsible to their own voters, will have the freedom to use their best judgement in meeting their states’ needs in the most effective ways.
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