In a Representative Democracy such as the United States, most people are familiar with what a law is, many people know how a bill differs from a law, but most probably do not understand what an Executive Order is.  Surely a week does not pass that it is not reported someplace that the President of the United States either signed an Executive Order to put into place a new policy or to rescind a previous one.  The situation can be confusing because the President of the United States is generally not understood to be someone who makes law.

The President of the United States is the head of the Executive Branch and he or she has some explicit powers and some gray ones.  The president can, for example, lead the country in making decisions regarding foreign affairs, nominate individuals for the Supreme Court, or in the role as “commander-in-chief ” lead the military.  But the president’s authority is not absolute as any treaty he or she negotiates with a foreign power must still be approved by Congress, nominees to the Supreme Court must be confirmed by the Senate, and any troop deployments over 60 days must be authorized by Congress due to the War Powers Resolution.  So, while the power of the president seems great it is, like virtually every other area of the U.S. government, subject to checks and balances.  One area in which the president can have a great deal of power is in the area of the Executive Order.

Click to continue reading “Executive Orders and the Law”

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The borders of Washington, D.C.

The borders of Washington, D.C.

Off the radar but inside the corridors of the U.S. Capitol an attempt to give the nation’s capitol city, Washington, D.C., voting representation in Congress has been raging.  Supporters of voting representation in the House of Representatives for the Americans living in D.C. fall into two camps: those who seek full statehood for the District of Columbia with all of the rights statehood would provide, and those who just want a Congressman of their own to represent D.C. interests in the House. The latter group have enlisted the help of a somewhat unlikely ally in the form of the State of Utah.

The challenges of granting statehood for the District of Columbia are tremendous as the U.S. Constitution places some very tough requirements for adding an amendment and there are only four ways that a constitutional amendment can be added:

  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state conventions (never used)
  • Proposal by convention of states, ratification by state legislatures (never used)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state conventions (used once)
  • Proposal by Congress, ratification by state legislatures (used all other times)

The Founding Fathers made it difficult to amend the U.S. Constitution because they wanted to ensure that such additions were made only when the greatest numbers of people agreed, thereby safeguarding the Constitution as much as possible from immediate, but short-lived, political concerns.

Click to continue reading “Voting Rights for D.C. Take a Step Forward”

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With all of the excitement that surrounded the first “Bailout bill” and now the furor over the new Stimulus bill I looked through our archives and saw that no one had yet discussed what a bill is and how it becomes a law. The point of this post is purely educational. There are no opinions here regarding the current stimulus package or Geithner’s announcement yesterday that he needs $TWO TRILLION MORE. I’m sorry, was I shouting? In keeping with the main premise of Inside Government – to help educate and inform the public – the following is a detailed look at bills. But, first – a blast from the past for those of you who might remember School House Rock:

Pretty cool, huh? Well, that is a very simplified presentation of how bills become law, but, it is on target and most of you probably remember seeing it. Now we move on to greater detail…

Click to continue reading “Just What is a Bill and How Does it Become a Law?”

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The Great Seal

Since the election ended on Tuesday, there has been a lot of talk about President-elect Obama establishing his cabinet.  The term cabinet refers to the heads, or secretaries, of the fifteen executive departments of our government which form the United States Cabinet.  The departments, from the executive branch of the government, are as follows: Department of State, Department of the Treasury, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation, Department of Energy, Department of Education, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Homeland Security.   You might recall that President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security following the events of 9/11.

Click to continue reading “The President’s “Cabinet””

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US Capitol Building at Night

US Capitol Building at Night

While the big news of the week has been the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American President of the United States, there was another compelling story going on election night, and that was whether or not the Democrats would pick up enough seats in the Senate to gain a filibuster-proof supermajority, or a total of 60 Senate Seats. While the election night commentators kept Americans up-to-date on various Senate races in key states, they never really explained why having a filibuster-proof majority was important or what exactly a filibuster was anyway. This post will attempt to answer all those questions regarding the filibuster, and more.

Click to continue reading “What is a Filibuster?”

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