The political system in the United States of America is a complex structure with many working parts. Over the past couple of decades, there have been significant changes in the landscape of American politics. From developments in technology and media to changes in finance and legal frameworks.
Although times have changed, the legislative processes upon which the U.S government is built hasn't changed much though some of how laws are interpreted have changed how politicians act.
The structure situating the political sphere in the U.S., the complexities around creating and passing laws, and the role of lobbying in government are some points this piece will explore. Additionally, you'll learn some insider perspectives on passing laws from the partners of Salient Strategies, Andrew Cates, Chris Sanchez, and Dustin Cox.
Last but not least, we'll explore the relations that exist between political decision-making and the economic system.
U.S. Politics 101
The U.S. government's distribution of power is arranged into three distinguishable branches; legislative, executive, and judicial. This distribution of power is combined with the application of a system of checks and balances to avoid autocratic rule. Together, democracy is carried out through the system of checks and balances in conjunction with the three branches of government.
The legislative branch, also known as congress, has two principal functions. One of which is the amount of funding allocated for the operation of the government. While the second function is to create governing laws for the United States.
The President, as head of the executive branch, must sign the legislation into law after it has been written, amended, and passed.
The President of the United States, who is chosen through the Electoral College process, is solely responsible for running the executive branch. Enforcing laws passed by the legislative branch is the main responsibility of the U.S. President. To aid in law enforcement, a cabinet consisting of 15 members is selected by the President. Each cabinet member is considered to be an expert in one area of policy subject matter where they act as advisors to the President in times of need.
At least this is how things are supposed to work. Let’s ignore presidential executive orders, and secret warrants/findings of the FISA court, shall we?
U.S. Politics v.s. Canada and UK
The political system in the United States has some similarities but it still differs from the political systems in Canada and the United Kingdom. For starters, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are all democracies. While the U.S. and Canada are both federal states, the UK is decidedly a unitary state since it uses devolution.
Across the three countries, there are distinctly unique qualities in which each governs their countries, and therefore informs the sphere of politics.
Another key difference is while Canada is a constitutional monarchy and a part of the British Commonwealth, the US is a republic.
This can come across as formal but in fact, it is one of the most significant differences in conducting politics. Essentially, in the U.S., the head of state would be the president. Whereas his Majesty King Charles III is King of Canada and Canada's Head of State.
Also, a noteworthy difference between U.S. politics and Canadian politics is the process used to enact laws and create policies.
The Complexities of Political Decision-Making: Laws & Policies
The political process in the United States requires several levels of decision-making for laws and policies to be passed. RSnake's discussion with the partners of Salient Strategies shed some light on the process that rollout in U.S law making. It is the combination of legal steps and relationships that go into a bill being passed successfully.
Creating & Enacting
Congress is where laws are first passed. A bill is the first thing that is written when a member of the House of Representatives or the Senate wishes to pass legislation.
About two years pass between each Congress. Hundreds or thousands of bills may be presented by Senators and Representatives throughout that span. But not all bills will become laws, only a select few that are passed. Many laws get consolidated, or clauses will get tacked onto bills at the last minute which is often derided as “pork.”
This system used to create and pass laws and policies in the United States was designed to do almost the opposite. Chris Sanchez elaborated on the hundreds and thousands of bills that are brought up every year, and that not all of them are suitable.
He explains that especially in Texas, "the process is designed to kill the legislation, not pass legislation." By having such a layered and arduous process, bills that may not be suitable are weeded out from being passed.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which form Congress, must vote on the bill. The bill is forwarded to the president of the United States if they both vote for it to become law. From here, a couple of avenues are possible.
The president can sign or decline to sign the bill. If the bill is signed by the President, then it ultimately becomes law. While if the president declines to sign, this is known as a veto. If two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House later vote to enact a vetoed bill, it will still become law.
In the interview with RSnake., Andrew Cates, Chris Sanchez, and Dustin Cox touched on the part of the political process that isn't plainly on paper. A part of the process is really who you know and what your relations are with different individuals. They explain that relations between members are significant to a bill being passed. Sometimes, regardless of how strong a bill may be, if the relations between members presenting aren't so favorable then the bill may not be passed. It can also be a chess game where one bill that is otherwise favorable to both sides will fail because a bill of substance to the opposing side was killed previously.
Strategic advisor Andrew Cates explains that oftentimes there are many processes carried out 'behind the scenes'. Decisions and conversations surrounding bills may have been done preemptively, which is why it may look as though nothing is happening live.
The Role of Lobbying
Lobbyists are people who are typically paid by corporations, outside groups, or organizations to advocate for or against certain legislation that would benefit or harm those groups. They act as a bridge between lawmakers and organizations to advocate for the select group or outside organization regarding the passing of a bill. It is also possible for lobbyists to represent more than one group at the same time.
As Andrew Cates mentioned, due to the variance in representing groups, the personal political beliefs of lobbyists must be cast aside.
"The legislature is what it is, and the legislators, there are, who they are. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if there's, 11 Republicans on a committee or 11 Democrats are split down the middle, you still have to get all the votes no matter what," says Andrew Cates.
Lobbying plays a very 'behind the scenes' role in the law-making process. Lobbyists aid in educating Congress and the populace about topics and challenges. Technical details concerning legislative initiatives are provided by lobbyists. Additionally, lobbyists inform politicians of the beneficiaries and losers of proposed legislation.
Their role is very much so intended to aid the political decision-making process by advocating for groups that are intended to help the government make the best decisions.
Passing Bad Laws or Policies
Cates, Cox, and Sanchez from Salient Strategies also gave their thoughts on how bad legislation can affect the country. When laws and policies are passed by lawmakers that might be considered 'bad actors', legislation might be enacted without considering the ramifications.
An unintended consequence may be positive or negative, but it is simply an outcome that was not predicted. Often, when unintended consequences are discussed and covered in the media, they tend to be, more or less, negative consequences.
One example of a law with an unintended consequence, which Salient Strategies brought to the discussion, was Illinois' anti-drone bill.
"It was written in a way where Google couldn't fly their satellites over the state of Illinois, for Google map images. Because of how the language was written, it was too prescriptive into what actually a drone would be," says Sanchez.
This is just one example of an unintended consequence of a passed bill but as the partners noted, this is when a return to court would be made. Should there be additional checks and balances on legislation built into it to force each bill to prove that it works, or it dies? How else does bad legislation get killed or proven to work? It is this lack of accountability that is most concerning, and entirely relies on counter-bills to be passed which may never occur due to political wheeling and dealing as well as simply lack of interest by the public.
The political landscape in the United States is complex and there are multiple working parts to their governmental system for passing laws and policies. The government structure, inner workings, the role of lobbyists, and how bad laws might cause consequences to show the intricacies that exist in the 21st Century of Politics. Like it or not, political lobbying is an integral part of politics.