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The founders of this nation envisioned an arrangement in which the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government would function effectively to meet the needs of the populace in both domestic and foreign matters. That experiment has endured for some 240 years in times both good and bad. Leaders in all three branches either are elected or appointed while the month of October in each even-numbered year results in a federal election that involves one-third of the Senate and all members of the House of Representatives who aspire to remain in office. These officials return home that month to make their individual appeals to the electorate.

Much of what transpires in government that works beneficially tends to occur without attracting much notice. Social Security checks are mailed or deposited into private accounts every month, payments are made to providers by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and members of the military serve in posts throughout the world to safeguard the nation’s interests. As of the end of October 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the population is nearly 329 million inhabitants. Given that a typical family consisting of only five individuals can engage in heated disputes regarding, what time to have dinner, what to eat, and whether the meal should consist of home-cooked or carry-out comestibles, it comes as no surprise that a national agglomeration in the hundreds of millions will generate vastly different and especially noisy opinions on the essential roles that government should play in their lives.

Key political factions often are described in binary terms, such as Democrat and Republican or liberal and conservative. Stuck in heavy traffic with no idea of what is happening further up the road and well beyond view, a liberal might conclude that if a police officer was at the main intersection that lies in the distance, traffic would be able to flow more smoothly. A conservative sitting in the next vehicle might just as easily believe that there must be a uniformed official at that same intersection. Otherwise, the situation would not be as messed up as it appears to be. The basic difference between these opposing points of view is that one group believes that government must be more involved as a desirable mechanism to solve various problems while the other group sees that same entity as the cause of a great many difficulties.

Yet, although progress may appear to be too slow at times, constructive action does occur. Presidents propose budgets and Congress acts on them in ways that its members see fit. Ultimately, agreements are reached on spending priorities and the chief executive signs appropriation bills into law. Medicare data show that spending for this program was 15 percent of total federal spending in 2016 and is projected to rise to 17.5 percent by 2027 while the Medicaid program helped provide health care to an estimated 73 million individuals in fiscal 2017 at a cost of about $596 billion. Several congressional committees and sub-committees in both chambers provide valuable oversight of executive branch activities pertaining to these two programs. Moreover, public hearings furnish an opportunity for representatives of a wide range of organizations in the private sector to weigh in with their opinions in ways that accrue to the advantage of program beneficiaries.

As was the case with deciding on the legality of the individual mandate created by the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court also sometimes will join a fray to arbitrate jurisdictional controversies. Thus, while it is somewhat less than perfect, the nation’s experiment in democracy endures in meaningful ways.

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