The Federal Government

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The Federal Government

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Being an advocate means making your voice heard, even to the highest levels. The legislative process can seem intimidating and confusing. The important thing to remember is that you do not have to be an expert in political science to be able to advocate for change you believe in.

The following information is a simplified overview of how the federal government is structured and works. For an indepth look at the process, our Advocacy Resources lists a variety of sources for additional information.

The federal government consists of three separate but equal branches: the executive, legislative and judicial. Each branch is balanced by powers in the other two branches: the President and Congress.

The Executive Branch

The Executive Branch of the government consists of the President, Vice President and the Cabinet. While the President is the highest authority and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the power is tempered by the authority of Congress who oversee the federal budget and have the power to remove the President from office.

The Legislative Branch

The Legislative branch of government is comprised of two "chambers": the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, these two chambers form the United States Congress.

Voters elect the 435 members of the House of Representatives. Each member serves a two-year term and is elected by the people of the state he or she represents. A "Speaker" is elected by members of the House, and is responsible for deciding what bills will be introduced to the chamber and overseeing the agenda. A House Majority and House Minority leader are also elected by their respective parties.

The Senate is comprised of two members for each state, totaling 100 Senators. Each Senator is elected to a six-year term. The Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader, elected by members of the Senate, provide the overall leadership, although the Vice President officially serves as the President of the Senate.

In order to pass legislation and have it authorized by the President, both the House and the Senate must pass the same bill by majority vote. If the President vetoes a bill, they may override his veto by passing the bill again with at least two-thirds majority in each chamber voting in favor.

The Judicial Branch

The Judicial Branch is comprised of the Supreme Court, and two "lower" courts: 13 appellate court districts and 94 circuit court districts. Once the Supreme Court has made a decision on a law, the lower courts must use their decision and apply it as appropriate to any relevant cases.

Being an Advocate

It's important to remember that making your voice heard on a particular issue, both at the state and federal level, can make a differences. The President and elected officials are there to represent your interests, but can only do so when they know what those interests are. Calling your elected officials (even the White House), making an appointment to meet them or their staff, writing a letter are all ways you can make a difference.

While it may seem like one person can't make a difference, don't forget there may be hundreds or thousands of individuals out there like you who believe in helping to ensure children and families have the resources they need to be healthy.