Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) has a warped view of federalism.
He serves on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology, and the House Veterans Affairs Committee, he previously served in the Indiana legislature, he holds a B.A. and an M.B.A., he is a veteran, he has worked in the private sector, and he has spoken at CPAC.
In other words, although Banks is a member of the Stupid Party, he is not an idiot.
But in an article for the Heritage Foundation (“How Federalism Can Give Head Start a New Start”) about the Head Start program, Banks misconstrues the nature of federalism and inadvertently shows us the problem with Republicans.
The Head Start program, as correctly explained by Rep. Banks, is “one of the pillars of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.” The program “attempts to alleviate the education gap between low-income children and their peers by providing comprehensive early childhood education services” and “provides medical and nutritional services while engaging parents in their child’s education.” Since the program’s inception in 1965 “funding and enrollment in the program have skyrocketed.” In fiscal year 2015, “Head Start had nearly 1 million enrollees and received $8.6 billion in federal funding.”
But “unfortunately,” as relayed by Rep. Banks, the Head Start program, “despite the best of intentions,” has “failed to improve academic achievement for far too many low-income students.” Banks cites a “recent long-term study of the Head Start program by the Department of Health and Human Services” that “tracked 5,000 three- and four-year-old children from pre-K to third grade and found no improvement in language skills, literacy, math, or overall school performance by the time enrollees entered third grade.”
The congressman’s solution is, unfortunately, not to cut all federal funding and eliminate the program. Banks writes: “It is clear that Head Start needs a new start, and we need a new approach to early childhood education. To do that, I am introducing the Head Start Improvement Act.”
His bill “would give states full control of how they spend Head Start dollars.” It is “a companion bill to legislation introduced by Utah Sen. Mike Lee.” (Banks’s bill is H.R.1921; Lee’s bill is S.185.) If his bill is enacted, writes Banks: “States would be free of the strings that always accompany money earmarked for federal programs, and they would have the flexibility to ensure pre-K dollars flow to where they will be used most effectively.” He claims that “state legislators in Indiana and across the country support this concept.” I’m sure they do. Who wouldn’t want free money with no strings attached. Banks maintains that “federal regulations and mandates have not improved education outcomes for low-income children.” He insists that “putting more money into central planning will not lead to better outcomes for these kids.” The federal government should “empower the laboratories of our democracy, the states.” After all, the states “are in the best position to know how to design and fund pre-K programs for their unique populations, and we will only see successful pre-K policy if they are given the flexibility they need to succeed.”
Banks has a warped view of federalism.
The United States was set up as a federal system of government where the states, through the Constitution, granted a limited number of powers to a central government. As James Madison succinctly explained in No. 45:
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the Federal Government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State Governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects, which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties and properties of the people; and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.
Since there is nothing in the Constitution that grants the federal government any authority to institute, maintain, oversee, or fund any kind of a Head Start program, it is clear that if there is to be some kind of a Head Start program, it must be instituted, maintained, overseen, and funded by each individual state that wants such a program.
It is for the same reason that each individual state should have its own laws concerning drugs, the minimum wage, education, health care, cultural and research grants, guns, and other welfare programs in addition to Head Start. The federal government should have nothing to do with any of these things.
Giving the states on “how they spend Head Start dollars” is no solution at all. What Banks and all Republicans should do is introduce bills to eliminate the program. After all, don’t Republicans claim to be the party of the Constitution? Don’t they express support in their mantra for federalism, limited government, and free markets?
The problem with Republicans is that they have no principled or philosophical objections to government welfare programs. Sure, some Republicans sometimes talk about making the federal government’s welfare programs run more efficiently, have less fraud, have more stringent requirements, and have more limited benefits. But Republicans generally only oppose only the most egregious outrages and comical shenanigans of federal spending. They never seem to have an issue with government program or government agency unless the program or agency does something that violates some conservative position.
Republicans criticize NPR, but only because it has a liberal bias. Republicans criticize the NEA, but only when it funds pornographic art. Republicans criticize Medicare, but only for waste, fraud, and abuse. Republicans criticize federal funding of Planned Parenthood, but only because the organization performs abortions. Republicans criticize federal regulations for being excessive, burdensome, or costly, but not because they should not be issued in the first place. Republicans criticize what they perceive as criminal actions of U.S. soldiers, but not the military action itself. Republicans criticize the TSA, but only when it significantly abuses airline passengers.
Head Start should be abolished, not just because it is unconstitutional, but because it is an illegitimate function of government that exists because the government takes money out of the pockets of some Americans and redistributes it to other Americans. The problem with Republicans is that they are welfare statists just like Democrats.
Laurence M. Vance [send him mail] writes from central Florida. He is the author of The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom; War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism; War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy; King James, His Bible, and Its Translators, and many other books. His newest book is Gun Control and the Second Amendment. Visit his website.