Much of the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching of the past year or so has focused on who will be elected President of the United States. While our president isn’t as much of a figurehead as some monarchs and heads of state in other countries, what happens to you depends more on who’s representing your state in the legislative chambers. In a dictatorship, the head of state’s actions definitely affect the daily lives of it’s citizens. However, the main thrust of presidential power lies in foreign policy and relations, with domestic policy largely remaining within the realm of the legislative branch. Being suspicious of putting too much power into the hands of one person, that’s the way the framers of the Constitution intended it when they constructed the separation of powers.
How Separation of Powers Works
As you might remember from your civics class in school, our government is divided into three branches, the executive, legislative, and judicial. Each branch was given specific responsibilities and empowered with countermeasures designed to keep any one branch of the government from gaining too much power. This is our system of checks and balances.
What the President Does
The President is an administrator who oversees the implementation of laws, has the power to veto legislation and wield executive power, and influences policy; he or she also shares the power to approve legislation with Congress. U.S. presidents also act as the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and have the power to commission officers, appoint ambassadors and federal judges, and receive foreign ambassadors. Domestically, they also pardon federal crimes and grant reprieves; the only unpardonable offense is impeachment. The President shares with the Senate the power to make treaties and appoint officials to the Judiciary.
What the Congress Does
The Legislative Branch is our Congress, which is divided into two chambers, the Upper (Senate) and the Lower (House of Representatives). Each state has two senators, and representatives are elected in proportion to their state’s population. Together, the members of this august body make our laws; they can also override presidential vetoes. Each chamber also has specified powers, but overall, they draft legislation and bills, debate bills in committee before sending them for a vote, levy taxes, raise and support armies and navies as well as defining the rules of governance for them, establish the rules for citizenship, and declare war, among many other duties pertaining to the establishment of laws, rules, and regulations necessary for a functioning democracy.
What the Judiciary Does
Contrary to popular perception, the Supreme Court doesn’t make laws, nor are it’s justices supposed to legislate from the bench. They interpret the constitutionality of existing laws if and when they are challenged. The Supreme Court is also the Federal appellate court of last resort. It hears cases that are brought before it and either upholds or reverses decisions in those cases based on their interpretation of their constitutionality.
The president may direct policy, but the decisions of Congressional leaders like Mike Crapo and other elected officials impact every facet of our lives from the food we eat to the roads that transport it to the market. Many, like Crapo, have served in both chambers of the legislative branch. They are dedicated public servants who must constantly strive to strike a balance between the needs of their constituents and what’s best for the country as a whole.