The Federal Government “Can Do Most Anything”
Over the past few days, a video of California Rep. Pete Stark’s exchange with a constituent in a town hall meeting has gone viral in the online community. The interest in the video is focused on a comment Stark made about the power of the federal government. Although coming from a California congressman, the comment captures the attitude of too many incumbents in Washington, including my opponent, Congressman Bob Etheridge.
The constituent asked Stark a question about Obamacare, “How can legislation such as this be constitutional when it seems to be in direct conflict with the 13th amendment? … And … if this legislation is constitutional, what limitations are there on the federal government’s ability to tell us how to run our private lives?”
Stark replied, “I think there are very few constitutional limits that would prevent the federal government from rules that could affect your private life.”
The woman followed up asking, “My question is: How can this law be constitutional? – but more importantly than that – if they can do this, what can’t they?…Is your answer that they can do anything?”
Stark replied, “The federal government, yes, can do most anything in this country.”
After seeing Stark’s comment, blogger Jon Ham recalled a similar comment he heard from North Carolina 4th District Congressman David Price years ago at a meeting of The Herald-Sun’s editorial board when he was managing editor of the paper.
“It was in the early to mid-’90s, and we were discussing recent examples of the federal government using threats to funding to get states to do their bidding. Examples were changing the drinking age from 18 to 21 and changing speed limits whenever the federal government thinks they should be changed. After a brief discussion of the topic, I asked Price how far he thought the federal government could go using this tactic to extract policy outcomes in states, and still have federalism, as it had traditionally been known, survive. Where would he draw the line on that kind of tactic? ‘I don’t see a line,’ he said. Nobody but me on the editorial board batted an eye at this comment, but I’ve never forgotten it.”
Even when not said as explicitly as Stark and Price did, the votes we have seen from most of the incumbents in Washington say the same thing in a concrete way that affects the lives of Americans every day. With his vote on Obamacare alone, Bob Etheridge told us that he believes the federal government can control the most personal aspects of our private lives. Like Stark he obviously believes the federal government can “do most anything in this country” and like Price, he apparently doesn’t “see a line” either.