Week 2 Assignment American Government 1 Essays

Submitted By donnav20
Words: 1619
Pages: 7

The National Minimum Age Legal Drinking Age Act
POL 201/American Government
November 17, 2014

A policy is “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.” (Oxford, 2014). In American government, Congress is the legislative branch that writes our laws and establishes the policies in which we must abide by. One of these specific policies is The National Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) Act of 1984. Although the 21st Amendment specifically abolished prohibition, it in turn gave states the authority to control the purchase and possession of alcohol inside its own borders, the MLDA Act required them to implement a minimum drinking age of 21. This act clearly raises issues of federalism because it required the national, state and local governments interaction in order to enforce what should have been an issue left strictly to the states control under the 10th Amendment. However, by using “carrots and sticks” so to speak, the national government was able to leverage influence on the states in order to get them to comply. The MLDA Act was established to require states to prohibit the possession and purchasing of alcoholic beverages to individuals who are underage. It was a mechanism that sought to deter young people from consuming alcohol at a young age by establishing legal punishments if they broke the law. It was also established to preserve the health and welfare of young people until a predetermined age where they could responsibly regulate their alcohol consumption. Prior to the establishment of the MLDA Act of 1984, states had different ages for the legal consumption of alcohol ranging from 18 to 20. This was mostly due to the passage of the 26th Amendment, which allowed those between the ages of 18 and 20 the ability to vote. However, due to rises in underage drinking and increased traffic accidents among this age range, some states began to return its legal drinking age back to 21. These incidents also led President Reagan to issue Executive Order 12358 which established the Presidential Commission on Drunk Driving. “The group was charged with increasing pubic awareness of drunk driving, persuading states to attack the problem in an organized and systematic manner, encouraging state and local officials to use the latest techniques and methods to address the problem and generating public support for increased enforcement of drunk driving laws.” ( Toomey & Lenk, 2009). This was also a way for the group to encourage states to raise their minimum drinking age using incentives and penalties. One way the group was able to provide these incentives and penalties was through The Highway Safety Act of 1966. This act required the Department of Transportation to establish uniform safety standards for highway safety programs. (Toomey & Lenk, 2009). It also provided funds to the states for these programs. Using the guidelines under the Highway Safety Act, for those states that did not increase the legal drinking age by 1 October 1986, a proposal to authorize the Secretary of Transportation to withhold 5% of federal highway construction funds was submitted. 10% of funds would also be withheld if states did not comply by 1 October 1987. By using cross-over sanctions and the power of the purse, Congress was essentially able to force compliance from the states. President Reagan was supportive of individual states rights on deciding whether or not to increase the age limit but he and his administration were initially against the idea of withholding funds for highway construction if they did not comply. He fully supported the idea behind the states exercising control over their rights. However, he eventually changed his position and enacted the MLDA on 17 July 1984. Still to this day, the act remains in effect despite the many debates whether it should remain at 21 or be lowered to 18. Proponents for keeping the MLDA at age 21