What Is Government?

Government is the system of rules and laws that control a country. It also includes the people who run that system. Governments vary widely. Most have a leader to make decisions, a legislature of some kind to make laws, and courts to enforce the law. The basic idea is that these three branches of government limit each other’s power. It’s called the separation of powers and checks and balances.

People elect representatives to city councils, state legislatures and Congress. These bodies make laws that affect local, state and national levels. They also pass measures to raise money, often by taxes on things like income and property. Then they draft budgets to decide how that money will be spent on things that benefit the public. On the local level, that might include police and fire departments and parks and recreation. On the state level, that might be higher education or maintenance of highways and bridges. On the national level, that could be defense or social programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

In the United States, the federal government is made up of three branches: the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. The first branch, called Congress, makes laws. A bill starts out when a member of the House or Senate introduces it. Then it goes to a small group of members, called a committee. The committee decides if the bill is ready for the whole House or Senate to vote on. If more than half of the members who vote approve it, it becomes a law. If the president dislikes a law, he or she can use a tool called a veto to reject it. However, if two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to override the president’s veto, the bill becomes a law without the president’s signature.

The second branch, called the executive branch, puts the laws into action. The leader of the executive branch is called the president of the United States. In addition to making policy and dealing with foreign countries, the president is also commander in chief of our armed forces. The president oversees many different departments that deal with things such as the economy, education, and military affairs. The heads of these departments are appointed by the president and form a group known as the cabinet.

The third branch of the federal government is the judicial branch. The judicial branch, including the Supreme Court, interprets, or explains, the laws that the other branches of government make. It also hears appeals, or complaints, against the law from people who feel that they have been unfairly treated by the other branches of the government. All of this is done in the name of justice and to protect individual rights. This is a big job, but it is necessary for our democracy to function properly. Governments provide services to their citizens and protect the common goods (things that all people can use, but in limited supply, such as fish in the sea and clean drinking water). They also manage resources such as forests, parks, and wildlife.