Federalism is a constant compromise between advocates of strong national government and advocates of state power.
Making the job of compromise more complex is that federalism is not just an ideological issue but also a reflection of pragmatic politics.
If a party dominates the federal government for a long time, its members are used to looking to that government to accomplish their goals.
People who are in the minority on the federal level tend to look to the states.
The movement stopped after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
The states retain primary responsibility for everything from education to regulation of funeral parlors, from licensing physicians to building roads and telling us how fast we can drive on them.
The national government tries to influence how the states and localities provide the goods and services and regulate the behaviors that have traditionally been within their jurisdiction.
There are many reasons.
It is easier to solve social and economic problems at the national level when they affect the populations of multiple states.
In some cases, national problem solving involves redistributing resources from one state to another, which individual states would be unwilling or unable to do.
Second, members of Congress profit electorally by passing laws and regulations that bring to their states resources, such as highway funds, welfare benefits, urban renewal money, and assistance to farmers, ranchers, miners, and educators.
Members of Congress prefer to adopt national legislation to prevent what states may be doing or planning to do.
When Congress passed civil rights legislation against the strong preferences of the southern states, they might object to state laws.
Legislation may be enacted to prevent states from making fifty different regulatory laws for the same product.
If Congress makes a set of nationally binding regulations, businesses and corporations don't have to change their products or services to meet different state standards.
National politicians need the cooperation of the states to deliver on their promises.
Changing educational policy or altering the drinking age can't be legislated in Washington because they are under state authority.
One of the biggest challenges for federal policymakers is how to get the states to follow federal directives.
Congress tries to influence what the states are doing.
The cost of the new programs will be paid for by the national government and how much of the cost will be covered by the government.
States can act as they please when there is no government influence.
Sometimes Congress decides that the nation's interests depend on all the states taking actions to solve a particular problem, such as early childhood education, food security for the disadvantaged, or health care for low-income individuals.
Federal money is released if a state complies with requirements.
If a state doesn't comply with the grant's detailed provisions, it won't get the money.
The states have to provide some funding of their own.
The states don't have enough money to meet all their citizens' demands, so categorical grants look very attractive on the surface.
The grants can be refused, but rarely.
In fact, state and local governments have become so dependent on federal grants that these subsidies now make up more than a quarter of all state and local spending.
States and localities often argue that federal regulations prevent them from doing a good job.
They want the money, but also more flexibility.
Most members of Congress like to use categorical grants because they receive credit for sponsoring specific grant programs which in turn helps establish them as national policy leaders.
State politicians want the most freedom possible.
They want to control their own destinies, not just carry out political deals made in Washington, and they want to please the coalitions of interests and voters that put them in power in the states.
States can use the funds in broad policy areas with the help of block grants.
Despite the electoral advantages to be gained from them, conservative politicians at the national level have long resisted the detailed, Washington-centered nature of categorical grants.
The block grant approach has been resisted by Congress.
Many members of Congress fear that the states will pursue their own agendas instead of what Congress wants.
The idea of putting federal money into block grants was characterized by one member as "pouring money down a rat hole."
Congress wants to block grants.
Members of Congress can't take credit for the programs if federal funds aren't attached.
It doesn't make sense to take the heat for taxing people's income, only to give the money back to the states as block grants, so that governors and mayors get the credit for how the money is spent.
Interest groups give millions of dollars to congressional campaigns when members of Congress have control over program specifics.
Interest groups have less incentive to make congressional campaign contributions if the states assume control.
The majority of federal aid to state and local governments is still given in the form of categorical grants.
Congress has to decide if it will pay for what it wants or if it will trust the states to comply voluntarily.
When the federal government issues policy requirements on the states but doesn't provide funds to pay for them.
Congress can force states to comply by threatening criminal or civil penalties or by threatening to cut off federal funds if they don't.
When the national government has no money to spend, unfunded mandates are more attractive to members of Congress.
The act limited congressional efforts to pass good laws.