General Overview of the Three Branches of Government
as determined by the Constitution of the United States of America
I’ve seen several questions and comments lately on social media that indicate a large portion of our society doesn’t really understand how our government works, so I decided to try to develop a general overview of the three branches of government, how they function, and how they relate to us as citizens. The following chart shows a brief breakdown of each branch and their intended purpose. I followed that with a slightly more defined list of duties, and also links that you can use to find out more if you have a particular interest or question. Essentially, I wanted to show how ‘We The People’ need to use our vote as our voice to protect our own interests.
Too many people think the President of the United States carries all the power, and all the responsibility for how our nation runs. In fact, the President may have less than the other two. The President is expected to be a leader in actions and speech. He or she sits as an example of how we expect to be perceived by other nations, and how we should act as a country. Our Legislature makes the laws of the country to the benefit of the majority of its citizens. The Supreme Court is designed to insure that all laws are in compliance with the Constitution of the United States of America. These three branches are intended to work in unison, to protect our natural and given rights, and to keep us viable in global relationships of which we often have very little control. These people work for us and are paid by our tax dollars. They don’t rule us, and they aren’t above the law.
Our responsibility is to vote to the best of our ability. We need to look at the big picture and decide who can do the best job for the most people. There will never be a time when 100% of the citizenry are content with our government and its laws, so we have to trust that the majority will do their duty and elect the candidates who have intentions that are best for the general population, and not their own personal interests.
- Cannot make laws, but can veto laws presented for signature, which can only be overridden by 2/3 of House and Senate votes
- Can add some provisions/modifications to existing laws through Executive Order
- Needs Congressional approval to declare War (except when the U.S. is under attack), Sign Treaties
- Nominates/Appoints Justices for the Supreme Court, Federal Judges, U.S. District Judges, Cabinet Members & Ambassadors
- Commander in Chief, Armed Forces of the United States of America
- Promotes job creation and economic growth in coordination with business, universities, communities & workers
- Related Agencies – Commerce
Health & Human Services
Housing & Urban Development (HUD)
There are and can be other lesser Cabinet positions and duties. Each administration can make additional positions. These are the 15 that have always been carried over, and all of them are in line for the presidency, should there ever be a crisis where the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President pro tempore are unable to serve as President. The next in line is the Secretary of State. Cabinets of the United States
U.S. Senate (Vice President is President of the Senate – only casts deciding votes)
President pro tempore (steps in when V.P. unavailable, but is able to vote on all matters)
Senate Majority Leader (Chosen by the majority party)
Senate Minority Leader (Chosen by the minority party)
100 Senators (2 per state)
- Oversight of the Executive Branch through investigations and hearings
- Conviction of Impeachment (President and other federal officials)
- Appointment of Presidential nominees for Cabinets, Supreme Court and other federal courts & offices (see exceptions-House)
- Treaty Ratification (see exceptions-House)
- Law Making/Changing (both Senate and House must pass any new law)
- 17 Senate committees, 70 subcommittees
- Each committee is assigned to a general policy, i.e. Homeland Security
- The subcommittees take on more specific parts of the policy, such as ‘emergency preparedness’, ‘cybersecurity’, ‘border & maritime security’, etc.
U.S. House of Representatives
Head: Speaker of the House (Chosen by the members of the House)
435 Representatives (Based on percentage of state population and recounted with every census, 2010, 2020, 2030, etc.)
- Oversight of the Executive Branch through investigations and hearings
- Impeachment of federal offices, including president (This then goes to the Senate for trial)
- Law Making/Changing (both Senate and House must pass any new law)
- Casting the vote to break a tie in the Electoral College
- Originates most spending bills necessary to keep the government running
- *Exceptions to Senate power – House approval needed for Vice Presidential appointment and for treaties that involve foreign trade
- 23 House committees, 104 subcommittees
- Committees and subcommittees operate the same in both the Senate and House, and are subject to change in number and title for each new Congress
For more details, see Legislative Branches
- Supreme Court
- Interprets the Constitution
- Interprets the constitutionality of laws – can declare a law unconstitutional, even though the Congress and president have all approved it
- Has the final say on laws or court actions brought before it
- Court of Appeals
- Administrative Courts
- Circuit Courts
- District Courts
- Each state has its own Supreme Court, which works in a similar manner as the U.S. Supreme Court, but its rulings only apply to that state.
- Administrative Courts
- Superior Courts
- Family Courts
- State, County and City Trial Courts
- Many individual courts, such as bankruptcy, traffic, juvenile, probate, criminal, civil, and so forth
Besides interpreting laws and resolving legal disputes, courts also assign punishments, fines, sentences and supervisory details for individual cases.
In some states, local judges and magistrates are chosen by the people in a non-partisan election process. Most states have at least some judges appointed by commissions or governors. To find out what your state does, see: Selection of Judges by state
For a more in-depth view of the Judicial Branch and its processes, see the following: U.S. Judicial Branch -THE END
THREATS TODAY WITHIN OUR OWN GOVERNMENT
NOTE: For readers’ convenience, definitions of some terms used in this article can be found by scrolling to the end, with links to follow as needed.
In this first quarter of the twenty-first century, we as a nation are facing threats in various forms and from several directions.
From outside, we’re involved in on-going wars throughout the Middle East, with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, ISIS insurgents in Iraq and Syria where, in Syria they become part of the Syrian civil war, to the continuing conflicts between Israel and Palestine. We have the ever-growing threat as North Korea fires off ICBMs, each time redefining the limits of their ability to strike at other countries, including the United States. Russia is pushing the borders of surrounding sovereign states, while dancing a fandango with our politically illiterate new president.
From inside our political parties are foundering, unable to connect within their own membership let alone work to reach agreements or compromises with those on the opposing side. Several of our leaders are fomenting the division deliberately, for reasons no one can determine. The oligarchs are running wild, gaining more and more wealth from the wallets of the middle and lower class citizens, some of whom are hanging on by their cracked and broken fingernails.
At first glance, our nation seems to be handling all this pretty well. The stock market is relatively stable with signs of an economic upswing in certain areas. Unemployment numbers are under 5%, although that may be an artificial reflection since many people have run out of unemployment benefits and are no longer included in the unemployed formula, and many others are employed only part time.
A second look tells us that we have major divisions in our population, with many issues coming back into play that had, a few years ago, appeared to be waning as our culture diversifies. We have an increase in hate crimes, aimed frequently at religious groups, but also directed at people of color, be it black or brown skin or some other feature that singles out a racial difference. There is a newer racism developed out of fear that is focused on immigrants from other parts of the world, and lesser understood cultures from the Middle East. Additionally, police relations with ordinary citizens are nearing a new low, and it goes both ways. Police have been ambushed or gunned down during traffic stops. Citizens have also been killed in horrific incidents of mistaken identity and hasty reactions. This is not rampant throughout America, but it is happening often enough that both sides are very jumpy and anxious when forced to interact. Add into this mix that many people are now completely stressed out about losing healthcare or their civil rights, or having their families torn apart through new regulations regarding deportation or immigration in general. On second thought, maybe our nation isn’t handling things so well after all. And maybe our Government is the biggest reason for this discontent.
First let’s ask, how does our president connect to all this? Donald Trump is a self-admitted opportunist and member of the capitalistic society. His books boast of his ability to manipulate investments and persuade people of influence and wealth to join in his business ventures. He brags about refusing to pay for contracted work, and hiring employees through the H-1B program that brings temporary workers from other countries here to work for lower wages. Politically speaking, for many years he was a registered Democrat but switched to the Republican Party in order to run for the presidency. He won the 2016 election through the Electoral College vote, but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by over 3 million votes. It became apparent, even during the campaign, that Mr. Trump was arrogant, frequently deceitful, and bigoted, with a penchant for insulting people who dared to challenge him in any way. He promoted divisive behavior, bordering on suggested violence between his supporters and his critics. Early into his presidency, the majority of critics considered him an Oligarch while many people began to speculate that he wanted a Kleptocracy. That is to say, he was viewed as a wealthy, controlling personality, and that he saw the presidency as a way to increase his power and increase his business assets for himself and his immediate family. Before too long, it also became apparent that he thought himself above the law, and intended to rule, rather than lead the country. Mr. Trump seems to hold some strange fascination with various *strong men* in general, such as President Duterte of the Philippines, or Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has a particular interest in Russian President Vladimir Putin, and refuses to even acknowledge the interference of Russia in our 2016 election process, that every one of our security departments agree happened. As disturbing as all that is, his theories on governing are more frightening.
His idea has been to treat the government like one of his business entities. For example, when his Muslim Ban was stopped by the judicial system he railed at the courts, insisting that it was within his right alone as president to decide who entered this country. He thinks of himself as the ultimate decision maker, and it came as a hard lesson to him to find out that our democracy has checks and balances to prevent that very thing from happening. Our Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, lays out clearly that we are a government of the people, by the people and for the people. There is no King or Emperor. He has mentioned on several occasions that the Constitution is outdated and needs to be redone. His style became that of a dictator or despot as he demanded loyalty from other government officials, and fired the ones that didn’t comply. (Government officials swear a loyalty to the Constitution of the United States. They are not required to be “loyal” to a person or group.) He continually refers to the media as “fake news” and regularly ignores questions they ask. Mr. Trump doesn’t seem satisfied with being president. He appears to want to reign over the United States of America.
For the sake of comparison, here is a short list of Dictators/Tyrants that have become the heads of countries: Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Gorbachev, Brezhnev, Putin, Bolivar, Noriega, Ortega, Hugo Chavez, Fidel and Raul Castro, Gaddafi, Arafat, Mubarak, Bashar al-Assad, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Kim il Sung, Kim Jong-un, Mao Zedong, and the list goes on.
What defines them as Dictators? Dictators rule through authoritarianism, discouraging or disallowing freedom of the press, speech, and other rights we recognize in a democracy.
- Although some countries may have limited access to television entertainment, any news is offered up through state media only. Freedom of speech is also limited, especially anything negative or questioning about the leader.
- Firm loyalty is a requirement, and any display of disloyalty can result in severe consequences up to and including imprisonment or death.
- Education is for the wealthy only, with most other children getting a rudimentary education until they become old enough to go to work. (That age varies from nation to nation.)
- Rights are basically meaningless under a dictatorship. Wages are what the government says they are. A worker stays until he is sent home and does the work he/she is told to do, whether it fits a certain job description or not.
- Only the wealthy can file a law suit, and then only in a limited way. If charged with a crime, there may or may not be a trial.
- Some dictators allow elections, but it’s hardly a choice when there is only one candidate.
- Woman are usually second rate citizens at best. More likely, they are treated like possessions or chattel.
- Religion may or may not factor into a dictatorship. North Korea does not recognize any religion other than the worship of Kim il Sung. Last year in Russia, Putin signed a law that allowed speaking of religion only in churches. Although Russia recognizes many religions and claims “freedom of religion” it is clear that the government controls how and where it is practiced. http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-russia-foreign-religion-crackdown-498551 ISIS, of course claims to be Islamic, but it is their own brand, not the true religion of Muslims around the world.
- An interesting note about our Constitution: It was written and signed by men of several religious denominations, but the majority of those involved were secular (non-religious). Freedom of religion meant the freedom from religion, as well. The separation of church and state was paramount to them, as they had come out from under the rule of the Church of England and did not want a religious marker on the new world.
As pertains to our country today, Mr. Trump promised great changes and a better system than we already had. As it turns out, most of the changes he’s been enacting are not the sorts of changes that we the people want, and so far they haven’t made America any greater.
Actual Losses, so far:
- Loss of International respect
- Loss of leadership position in Paris agreement
- Loss of leadership in the G20 summit meeting
- Cuts to public school funding
- Gutting of the EPA
- Severe cuts to the State Department
- Unreasonable Deportations resulting in the heart-breaking separation of families
- Cuts in Visas to workers for farmers and laborers for the trades
- State Department refusal to accept funding for protecting us from Internet interference from ISIS and Russia (Think about that!)
- Rollbacks on Obama Regulations (Some of these being challenged in court)
- Offshore Oil Drilling Limitations
- Clean Power Plan
- BLM restrictions on drilling on public lands, national parks
- Clean Water regulations for streams and rivers including Office of Surface Mining Stream Restrictions Act
- Complete cut of financial aid to Meals on Wheels
- Cuts to funding for school meals
- Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule
- Transgenders no longer allowed to serve militarily (as yet unenforced)
- Right to Privacy – Public posting of voting and other personal data
- Reactivation of the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines construction
- Freedom of the Press (At least one member of the press has already been arrested, with several being temporarily detained at various events. The press has also been ejected at times from public political events)
- Freedom of Assembly and Speech (Limiting protests and rallies. **Congress is also trying to pass a bill that would criminalize boycotting or speaking critically of Israel.) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/democrats-join-republicans-in-bill-criminalizing-speech_us_5978bc17e4b0c6616f7ce6d9?ncid=engmodushpmg00000003
- Freedom of Religion (separation of church and state)
- Less restriction on police brutality
- The Right to Vote – You read that right. Mike Huckabee is currently asking congress to repeal the 17th amendment and allow governors to appoint Senators.
- Even more voter suppression through gerrymandering and limited access in certain districts
- Loss of healthcare to the most vulnerable (Seniors, Children, Disabled and the poor)
- Extreme Medicaid Cuts
- Cuts or privatization of Social Security and Medicare
- U.S. tax dollars spent building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico
- Banning of specific cultures, religions and nationalities
- Rollback of Dodd-Frank Act (Banking regulations, which, among other things, helps prevent poor lending and mortgage management, limits trading allowed by financial institutions, and requires proper ratings for valuations of business ventures.)
- Loss of Net Neutrality (large corporations like Verizon would “buy” parts of the Internet, then slow speeds or block entire portions of the web unless we pay a usage fee (above the Internet access fees we already pay)
The United States government affects us personally when it attacks health care or taxation and the like, but it also affects communities as a whole. We may not always recognize our place of residence as a community, but it almost always is. Even though farms and ranches are spread out, it’s still a rural, or farming community. Our cities are often divided into smaller hubs which are mixes of residential communities and industrial or mercantile communities.
Communities – In addition to continental divisions of East Coast, West Coast, Southern, and Midwestern, etc., the United States consists of sub-cultures and communities such as Urban, Rural, Suburban, Metropolitan, and Universities plus Religion Based and Ethnic communities. We have large Amish populations in the states surrounding the Great Lakes and the upper Midwest who generally live in their own separate communities. New York has several Jewish communities, while the South is largely populated by Baptists. In Metropolitan areas you may find large Chinese / Vietnamese / Korean communities offering goods and foods from their respective cultures. New York City is famous for having European ethnic groups, as well as Italians, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Generally, the further west you travel the more likely you are to see less definition and more of a “melting pot” effect, although plenty of areas still have a majority of people of a certain ethnicity, such as Swedish or German or Russian, etc.
We also have economic sectors, like the “Rust Belt” which stretches from Minnesota around the Great Lakes and into New York. This was an area once recognized for its industrialization; manufacturing of cars, trucks, trailers, steel, and other industrial products. The name Rust Belt refers to the deterioration of the manufacturing businesses that either became outdated, or moved to areas that could provide cheaper labor, including overseas. Entire swaths of communities and neighborhoods fade into poverty as regulations are removed or programs are cut.
As we become more and more dependent on automation and technical advances, we see the casualties in our jobs market. Obvious things that once were profitable ventures, but are no longer viable include: Wagon Trains, Stage Coaches, Telegraphs, Horses for travel, Speakeasies, Bi-planes, Steam Boats, Crank Telephones, Analog or Landline Phones, Coal & Oil Heating, Manual Assembly Lines, Hand-Made Textiles, Steno Pools, Gas Station Attendants, to name just a few. These things are no longer manufactured, produced or used in the volumes they once were, and so require fewer, if any, operators and workers. (There is a mule rider that delivers mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so some jobs hang on longer than others.)
Other changes are bound to follow. Here is a sampling of jobs headed for obsolescence:
- Auto mechanics
- Newspaper production staff
- Department store clerks/staff
- Bank tellers
- Furniture craftsmen
- Cab/Uber drivers
- Many in the service industries, like waiters and waitresses or travel agents.
- Family run farms and dairies are also taking a hit as large corporate entities take over with automated equipment and less need for manual labor.
The government, and specific candidates in particular, might make promises to shore up these businesses just like Mr. Trump did regarding coal mines, but the truth is, no one – not even the government – can force people or businesses to buy goods and products that no longer fill a need. In order to aid workers displaced by a shift in product demand, education and retraining are tools the government (both federal and local) can use to assimilate people into the modern marketplace, but so far that’s being scoffed at by the Republican Congress.
Normally, I try not to influence anyone’s decisions, but prefer to give all the angles and let everyone figure out what works best for them. In this case, though, I’m going to suggest that what we’ve done so far is taking us in the wrong direction. In fact, it’s taking us in the worst possible direction. We need to turn this bus around. Shake hands with your Republican or Democrat neighbor and say, “how can we work together to get ourselves out of this mess?”
Start by picking your battles. Stop competing with your potential allies. In the past, left and right have worked together and they can do it again. Write/text/email your congressmen, whether they are liberal or conservative, and tell them what you want, what you expect! Call them, too. Talk to your neighbors and co-workers, especially if they have different views than you do. Ask questions, but be sure to listen to the answers. I heard a great question the other day; are you listening to respond, or are you listening to understand? Think about that. I’m not suggesting you have to accept their way of thinking, but that you try to understand it from their point of view. Share your point of view but don’t push and don’t expect agreement. Just share. Then look for something that you can agree on – maybe something as simple as working together to get all of your neighbors or all of your work members to register to vote! Maybe there’s someone up for election that you both like… or even that you both think is doing a lousy job. Try combining your efforts to effect a change in that one seat!
And pay attention! Read a bit more, listen to a non-partisan news broadcast. DON’T assume everything you read on Face Book is legit! Research! If it doesn’t sound right, or sounds too good to be true, that’s probably the case. Don’t just wish for change, work for change.
Make your efforts count. Insults and name-calling will NOT help your cause. Bullying isn’t funny. Being rude isn’t funny. Take a deep breath and calm down before you respond with anger. If you can make a real, non-offensive joke, it can ease tensions. If that isn’t your thing then just speak honestly.
I will tell you this: In my opinion, the Tea Party is the worst thing that ever happened to our political system. They have fractured it in almost unrepairable ways. They want NO government except for things like telling us what religion to belong to, and getting us to tithe to them. (They need to try living in Yemen for a while. No government there. How’s that working out?) Secondly, the Republican Party as a whole has stopped representing the people. Now that the Supreme Court has decided that corporations are people, the GOP only represents corporations, and then only the ones who put serious money in their pockets. Yes, Democrats take money, too. It takes money to win elections, sadly. But you can look at where people are getting their money and determine where their votes are going to go. If they are getting money from Unions and Police and Firemen, they are usually going to be helping the needy, the middle class and small business. If they get money from big pharma, or the Koch brothers, or Wall Street they are probably going to support corporate wishes over the middle class. Wealth does not trickle down. That’s never worked and never will, so don’t buy it. Tax cuts do not encourage hiring. (It might work if the hiring was done first, in order to get the tax cuts.) Sure, there are good Republicans out there. I know several. Unfortunately, they aren’t running for office. One last thing… the Republicans want to tear down the Affordable Care Act (let it implode) and then start from scratch. Tell me something. If your roof started leaking, would you tear down your house and rebuild from the bottom up? Or would you fix the roof, and the ceilings too if necessary, and consider it a job well-done?
So again, pay attention, ask questions, share and listen. Don’t think that we can’t lose our rights, because we can! Apathy and complacency are two of the surest ways to lose them. Get involved! Work together! And remember:
WE CAN’T JUST WISH FOR CHANGE, WE HAVE TO WORK FOR CHANGE!
DEFINITION OF TERMS USED IN THIS ARTICLE
Democracy: A: a government by the people; especially: ruled of the majority. B: a government in which the supreme power is vested in [given to] the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/democracy
Capitalism: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods [rather than the government] and, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitalism
Kleptocracy: government by those who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kleptocracy [Klepto is a prefix taken from the Greek, meaning to steal.]
Opportunist: the art, policy or practice of taking advantage of opportunities or circumstances often with little regard for the principles or consequences. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/opportunism
Oligarchy: A. a government by the few. [Usually the wealthiest] B. a government in which a small group exercises control for corrupt and selfish purposes. C. an organization under oligarchic control. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oligarchy
WE NEED FULL CREDIT GOVERNMENT CLASSES IN HIGH SCHOOL
As adults, we don’t know how to fit political information into our schedules. If we haven’t gained political education before we graduate, we aren’t likely to for several more years. We glance at the news to catch the weather, or a sports score, but seldom do we sit down to watch the entire broadcast. Even worse, we spend less time listening to our political figures when they speak at a State of the State, or State of the Union Address, for instance. Even people who say they get their news online often read only the headline and a paragraph or two. Practically speaking, we elect our leaders and our representatives based on a picture, a few sentences we’ve randomly heard them speak, and a well-written biographical paragraph by a paid marketer. Some voters watch for the political ads and decide by what they see there, not realizing that these are nothing but mini-commercials by marketing strategists, selling you their product. Rarely do we think to look up an incumbent’s voting record or find out what their previous jobs were and what their business reputation was. The truth is, unless we take courses in college related to the political arena, most of us know very little about our government and how it operates. Once we leave high school, our lives become a whole new world of responsibilities with a job, and/or college classes. Many marry and begin families which brings in a whole new dimension of responsibility. We now have bills to pay, and of course we want a social life. We need a car, or a place to live… and on and on. High school prepares us for this new world with information that helps us make good choices, but does it prepare us to improve our lives and our worlds through the power of the vote?
Just about everyone knows who the president of the country is, even if they didn’t vote. However, it’s surprising how many don’t even know who the vice president is, let alone who their senators and congressional representatives are. Even locally, 20-somethings to 40-somethings often don’t know who is representing them in their state legislature, or who the governor is, or the mayor of their own city, let alone their council members. This is somewhat understandable, given that many families have both parents working, or are single-parent households. With children, there are doctor appointments, babysitters to schedule, laundry, meals, constant housecleaning, and general bill-paying. Then comes school registrations, parent-teacher meetings, sports, holiday shows, birthday parties and other parent-child activities… all while working a full-time job and trying to have some family time. Whew!
So the last year or two of high school (before all that starts) is the best time to teach some life skills that can lead to a better future for the student as he/she becomes an adult. First, we need to acknowledge that History is not the same as Civics, and a class in Government is completely different than either one.
HISTORY is mostly about the names of Kings, Queens, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Tribal Chiefs, Sheiks, Dictators and a few famous U. S. patriots and the dates of their birth, death, and times in power. It also focuses on wars and specific battles throughout the years.
CIVICS class is centered around the rights of citizens, mainly in the United States, and sometimes broken down to the state level. The Constitution is usually a part of this curriculum. Some voter information is usually included. It is an important course but it doesn’t teach much about how the government functions.
GOVERNMENT class is the study of how governments run, particularly in the United States. Besides learning about pacts and treaties and how they come to be, this course takes into account how the three branches of our federal government work (and the checks and balances this provides), and describes how policies and laws are made. Ideally, there is some overlap between government class and civics class, but one does not take the place of the other.
Today, civics classes are required as early as 7th grade. I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember a single class I had when I was 12. Boys were discovering girls, and girls were discovering that boys were noticing them. Sports were being introduced on a competitive level. I remember that elective classes were added to the curriculum, and most of us chose something that seemed like fun; possibly shop or home economics (back in those days), or music, art, or typing.
The civics classes in school today are usually half-credit classes, paired with some kind of local government class. While this is better than nothing, the message is sent that the workings of government really aren’t very important to the average citizen. The amount of time allotted doesn’t allow for the setting up of a mock government and studying the variety of issues our three main branches face. How can we expect our next generation to be inspired to become involved if they don’t even know how it works? How can they know how to vote if they don’t even know that senators and representatives can write and submit bills, but both the house and the senate must approve them and the president must sign them before they become law? (Yes, the president has a veto power which allows him to keep a bill from becoming law, but the veto can be overwritten if it goes back to congress and passes both the senate and house of representatives by 2/3 majority in each.) Instead, we believe a president can actually change the law at will, without understanding that he can only do that with the help of congress. In fact, most presidential candidates don’t even know the full extent of their limitations until they begin receiving briefings. (Many people also confuse Executive Orders with Laws. Executive Orders can only pertain to laws that are currently in existence.)
And then of course, any new laws (or orders) have to be legal. That is, laws cannot be made that go against the Constitution. Our judicial system is set up to prevent that from happening. There are legal ways to circumvent that, such as adding a constitutional amendment – something that is very difficult and requires a great deal of work in order to reach an agreement which will win the necessary backing of the individual states. First a proposal must be developed and must pass both branches of congress by 2/3 majority of each branch. Then the bill must be sent to the states where their legislatures must agree, by simple majority, to the amendment. Three quarters of all states must approve of the amendment. The president cannot veto any step of this process. ***For more on amendments, see the end of this article.
Did you know all this? More importantly, did you know all this the first dozen or so times that you voted?
Shouldn’t our future voters and leaders know that federal judges are appointed for life – not only the Supreme Court? Shouldn’t our newest voters understand that there is a hierarchy to the court system?
Shouldn’t our schools teach that even the executive branch of the government must meet the standards of the Constitution, and that our congress and judicial systems may be called on to determine if any new law or regulation is constitutional? Wouldn’t all this stick in their minds more, the closer they got to voting age?
Isn’t it up to us to talk to our state legislators, boards of education, and our school districts to try to encourage more involvement for our students so they can go into the world armed with the best information they can get? Wouldn’t we have a better world if the youngest adults were as informed as we’ve become after raising our families and then finally finding the time to actually learn about the amazing way our forefathers set up our democracy?
While researching data, I found that most requirement information is only current through 2013, so some states may have modified their requirements in either direction during the last 4 years. At this website, I noticed some states had actually dropped government from their requirements. Reference for graduation requirements Info: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbprofall?Rep=HS01
According to the referenced website, only 4 states and the District of Columbia show a full credit required for U.S. Government – Idaho, Iowa, Maryland, and Nevada.
Fifteen others show Government at a full credit, but mixed with other subjects such as history or civics.
Nine states show no Government requirement at all – Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming.
The other 22 states require only ½ credit, sometimes mixed in with other subjects such as local government or history, and of these, some offer the classes as early as 7th grade.
In early 2017, several states reviewed and have changed, or are considering changing requirements for graduation. You can look up your local Board of Education to find requirements and other graduation information. If you would like to see the next generation graduate as a better informed and more aware group of young adults, you can begin with your local school board. Let them know what you want!
**** A final consideration might be to require that all students pass a citizenship test prior to graduation. Why do we expect new U.S. citizens to know more about how our government works than the young people that have gone to school here their entire lives?
There are currently many petitions and proposals circulating for a 28th amendment. A few are:
- Citizens United (campaign funding)
- Time limits on congressional and senate votes for appointed positions such as the Supreme Court.
- Social Security and healthcare as a right.
- Term limits for members of the House and Senate.
- More recently, limitations and requirements pertaining directly to the president, such as release of tax forms, medical records, and divestiture of business conflicts are being discussed.
Full Definition of ENTITLEMENT – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
1.a. The state or condition of being entitled
1.b. A right, especially by law or contract
2. A government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also funds supporting or distributed by such a program
3. Belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges
So let’s look at these different meanings.
1a. The state or condition of being entitled: Some simple entitlements might be the right to choose what we wear, or what we want to order from a menu. We are entitled to receive what we paid for, in the condition promised. We are entitled to an agreed amount of payment for an agreed amount of work. After meeting certain conditions, we would be able to claim the right or entitlement of driving cars.
1b. A right, especially by law or by contract: Each World Country sets the entitlements that pertain to their citizens. We will only be discussing the United States of America in this post.
Our constitution was written with the idea that every person is entitled to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Through a series of Amendments, additional rights and entitlements have become law over the years. Some of these are freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, and the right to vote.
In law, there are certain entitlements that protect the rights of artists, writers, inventors, and so forth. Copyrights and Patents can be applied for by the original creator. This helps assure that no one else can profit from the work of the inventor, author, song writer, etc. That person can, however, sell their rights to other parties; usually producers, publishers, museums, to name a few.
2. A government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also funds supporting or distributed by such a program: An Entitlement would refer to such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Welfare, Medicaid, WIC, unemployment, workers compensation, certain grants, and many others. Even The Earned Income Credit at tax time is an entitlement program. Education and housing are other areas where entitlements can come into play.
There is a common thread of thought in today’s society that all financial entitlements are forms of charity, or freebies, or handouts. In fact, several are not. First, though, it’s important to know that the Federal Government does not control all forms of entitlement. Individual states are responsible for a large portion of social programs, so differences in benefits can be found across the country. Sometimes the federal government – generally congress – sets regulations for such programs, and in some cases, the states receive federal funds, (again set by congress) to help them meet their social expenditures. In other cases, the state may independently develop and control a program such as health care.
Welfare: There are categorical grants from the federal government to state and local governments, in which specific uses and spending plans are stated. There are also block grants, where the federal government gives states and local governments monetary assistance with little or no stipulation on how it is to be spent.
TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, is a block grant. TANF replaced ADFC, or Aid to Dependent Families with Children, which was a categorical grant. Since TANF is a block grant, each state controls what the requirements are for receiving aid, and the length of time that aid can be received, up to five years in total per family (the federal standard). UPDATE: as of 2017, some states are reducing the amount of lifetime aid that can be received to as little as one year! The federal government also stipulates that work requirements must apply to TANF recipients. In other words, they have to find work within a certain amount of time (decided by the state) and report income accordingly. Besides cash, some ways that TANF is applied is for finishing high school or obtaining a GED, some vocational training, and child care.
Categorical grants are given by Congress and have the advantage of federal guidelines. Each recipient receives the same benefits and/or restrictions in all states, counties and cities. Head Start and Medicaid are examples of categorical grants. Food Stamps fall under a categorical grant, in that congress decides the benefits and rules and the federal government funds the direct expense of the stamps. In this case, though, the federal and state government split the expenses of running the service.
Food Stamp or SNAP criteria (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) is usually the same as the TANF requirements. For both SNAP and TANF, the recipients must be United States citizens, or have legal residence status. They must also have a Social Security card for each member of the household.
The forms of welfare mentioned above are all tax-payer funded. Whether financed by the federal government or a state or local government, our tax dollars are the source of their revenue. The federal government calls them “safety nets”, and that is what they are intended to be. There are, of course, people who abuse them by lying, or by using them beyond the point of need. For some, it’s easier to sit home and get a free check than to find a job and actually do it. Statistics show, however, that the majority of people receiving TANF have found work and gotten off of government assistance within a year. The following chart shows U.S. Census statistics for the years 2009 through 2012.
The states that provide educational assistance with a combination of other job oriented assistance – such as day care, have the highest rates of success in recipients leaving the TANF program within a year or two. Unfortunately, some states provide as little as 5% of TANF monies from the federal government on programs that actually lead to better employment. Some of these recipients are able to find part-time, or minimum entry work after getting a GED, but not work that pays enough to sustain a family without continuing TANF assistance. A larger group may be able to find employment that allows them to get off of TANF, but still require food stamps or housing assistance. The most successful stories come from people who have access to programs that lead them to job-related education, whether college or trade school.
Much of welfare is spent on the physically or mentally disabled:
Medicaid is health insurance provided for people in poverty or near poverty situations. People who are on Medicare may also be eligible for Medicaid if Medicare does not cover certain conditions or if the applicant receives a poverty level of overall income. Many people with mental health issues are eligible for Medicaid. The problem is that they may not know it, or be able to ask for help.
SSDI – Social Security Disability Insurance is a program for those who have been working, usually 5 out of the last 10 years or more, and become disabled due to injury or illness and can no longer continue working. Mental health issues may also be covered. The amount they receive is based on how much they have worked and paid into Social Security in the past, much like how Social Security payments are determined. SSDI comes out of a special part of the Social Security Trust Fund. Fifteen percent of what we pay into Social Security is placed in the disability trust fund. SSDI beneficiaries will be placed on Medicare after two years.
SSI – Supplemental Security Income is NOT an actual Social Security program although Social Security administers it. This is a federal program that was previously run by the individual states as part of their welfare program for people who are blind, elderly or disabled. It was moved to Social Security for administrative purposes, but is paid out of federal general funds that come from our taxes. People with disabilities who have never worked, or who did not work long enough to build up credits towards SSDI can apply for SSI.
Although I don’t want to start a discussion in the middle of this post about illegal immigration issues, it’s only fair to address the complaint that many people in the United States are here illegally, whether by visa over-stay, or illegal entry. One of the biggest complaints is that these people are taking benefits such as Social Security, especially the SSDI portion, away from citizens that need it. In an ideal world, there would be none of that, or at least very little. We simply do not have the manpower, or the funding for the latest technology to catch people willing to apply for assistance, even knowing they are breaking the law. This complaint also impacts other areas of assistance, including housing, education grants, and Medicaid. We don’t just give these benefits to anyone that asks, but departments that are underfunded and understaffed do make more mistakes. And there are cases where it becomes somewhat complicated, in that parents may come here illegally, but any of their children born here are automatically citizens, which entitles the child or children to certain benefits if they are living near or below the poverty level. In that case, the parents would receive the benefits in the child’s name. In actuality, the only entitlement illegal immigrants have in the United States by law is humanitarian emergency medical treatment, for instance, if someone had a heart attack or was struck by a car. Our government, whether federal or state, is not willfully giving away benefits meant for citizens and legal residents. In a future post, we will have a discussion about immigration in more depth.
At the end of this article, I will provide links where you can report suspected fraud of Social Security, unemployment, SSI, and other assistance programs.
Social Security – Social Security is perhaps the most well-know of all the entitlement programs. More than 60% of older Americans receive 50% or more of their income from Social Security. There are over 40 million retired workers in America today, as well as nearly 3 million spouses or children of retirees that are eligible for benefits.
Social Security taxes (FICA) are paid by working individuals at a current rate of 7.65% annually, on earnings up to $118,500 for the year 2016. Normally, these numbers rise slightly each year. FICA stands for Federal Insurance Contributions Act and also includes Medicare taxes at a rate of 1.45%. Employers also pay into Social Security taxes at a matching rate, so an additional 7.65% is being paid on the worker’s behalf. Self-employed persons pay at a rate of 15.3%.
There are many layers to Social Security, such as widows and dependents benefits and early retirement, but they basically work the same way. They are there to protect working people and their families when they are no longer able to work for an income.
This is not a form of welfare, as you can see, because we are all paying into it, and all are entitled to a return when we reach retirement age. There is a formula that is based on our earnings over time and the length of time we work, which determines how much we are due monthly when we file for Social Security. We can continue to work once we reach retirement age (currently 66, but will be 67 if born in or after 1960) and still collect Social Security, however our monthly checks will not increase once we begin to collect. If we decide we want to work longer, there is no penalty for delaying Social Security until the age of 70. In that case, our benefits continue to rise, and our monthly check will be increased at 8% annually, or approximately 32%.
Medicare – Medicare is health insurance that becomes available to all U.S. citizens when they reach the age of 65. As stated under the paragraph about Social Security, Medicare funding comes from workers’ FICA withholdings. Again, this is not a welfare program since we pay into it while working. Everyone should file for Medicare part A – hospital insurance. Medicare part A is free, as long as you have worked and paid into it for at least 10 years. If you have company insurance, you can continue to use it and still receive Medicare. Depending on the circumstances, either Medicare or your employee insurance will become your primary insurance. Your coverage begins the first day of the month you turn 65.
You can file for part A up to 3 months before you turn 65, or wait up to 3 months after you turn 65. You cannot use the insurance from the Affordable Care Act and Medicare at the same time. Once you become eligible for Medicare you are no longer eligible for ACA insurance policies. You can delay signing up for part B – medical insurance – if you are fully covered under a plan through work. (Your policy needs to be verified to make sure the coverage is acceptable. If you delay, and don’t have creditable insurance, there is a penalty for every year (12 months) that you delay. That is, your Medicare coverage for doctors, tests, scans, etc. will be penalized. There is also Medicare part D, which covers prescription drugs. If you want to sign up for this, it should be done at the same time that you enroll in part B. A late penalty is charged for delay on this, as well. There are also small monthly fees for parts B and D. Part B can be taken out of your Social Security check automatically, and is recommended, but you can pay by check if you prefer. You can either send a check or have an auto-withdrawal set up for part D supplemental payments. Prices vary. There are a multitude of insurance advisors that will work with you for no charge if you’re interested in getting additional supplementary insurance, which would help pay for the difference between what Medicare covers and your responsibility beyond that.
Generally, you can’t get Medicare until age 65, but there are a few special exceptions for receiving Medicare early, including if you have ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease) or a kidney transplant. A good website to check for more information about Medicare is https://www.medicare.gov/sign-up-change-plans/get-parts-a-and-b/when-coverage-starts/when-coverage-starts.html
Unemployment – Unemployment is not often thought of as an entitlement program, but it is. Claims are made to your own state, and the rules vary from state to state. Employers who have four or more employees pay FUTA taxes (Federal Unemployment Tax Act) to the IRS. This funds the cost of administering the Unemployment and Job service programs in all states and U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico. States can borrow from the federal government to pay the actual unemployment expense. The loans must be repaid with interest. As a rule, most benefits are only paid for 6 months, and require proof of job searches.
And finally, an obnoxious form of entitlement:
3. Belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges: This is when a person or group believe they don’t need to follow customs, rules, regulations, or laws. Examples – He feels that he is entitled to jump to the front of the line in the cafeteria because his work is important and he needs to get back to it quickly. Because her father owns the company, she feels she can be rude and obnoxious to the employees. Moreover, many young people now entering the work force believe that their schedules should be set around their specific preferences. One other example that I find particularly puzzling is the criminal defense of “Affluenza,” which is an example of egregious misuse of entitlement. For those who don’t know, affluenza refers to being so affected by wealth and privilege that one does not know the difference between right and wrong and is therefore not guilty of a named crime. At least two instances of this defense have been successful in recent years.
I have, by no means, covered all the various entitlements available in our society. There is housing, school lunch programs, educational grants, the Veteran’s Administration, public education, and on and on. I tried to touch on the ones that affect the largest amount of people, and the ones that are the subject of contention in the news at the present time. If there is something in particular that you would like to know about or discuss, please let me know in the comments section and I will do my best to offer up useful information.
***There are some people who say that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme. I had intended to write about that here as a discussion point, but I think I will do a full second post addressing the arguments for and against that theory. If you have feelings or ideas about that, please go to the comments section and let me know what you want to see or contribute. Use this as a reference, or look up questions you have using the links I’ve provided, so that you can join in on the Ponzi scheme discussion. If you have information, I’d love to hear that, too. I hope to have the next post up before the end of September. [This blog format requires an email address when entering a comment. Your email address will not appear with your comment.]
- Before you report, remember that filing a false report is also a crime. You don’t need proof, but be prepared to advise the parties you contact of how you know, or why you suspect someone is committing fraud.
Social Security fraud: https://oig.ssa.gov/report
Medicare/Medicaid fraud: https://oig.hhs.gov or contact the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-447-8477
Unemployment fraud: https://www.dol.gov/general/maps/fraud This site gives numbers to call or websites for each individual state
Food Stamps or SNAP fraud: https://www.usda.gov/oig/hotline.htm or to your state Food Stamp Office
*Much of my information about Social Security and SSDI and SSI was gathered from https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/chartbooks/fast_facts/2016/fast_facts16.pdf and this link was provided by newspaper columnist Tom Margenau. Mr. Margenau was national director of Social Security’s public information office for several years. https://www.creators.com/author/tom-margenau