Politics and Public Policymaking for AP U.S. Government
Review questions for this study guide can be found at:
The Policymaking Process
The policymaking process involves several steps:
- agenda setting—recognizing an issue as a problem that must be addressed as a part of the political agenda. Problems are often brought to the political agenda by citizens, interest groups, the media, or governmental entities.
- policy formulation—finding ways to solve the problem; exploring alternative plans of action and developing proposals to solve the problem.
- policy adoption—adopting a plan of action to solve the problem; may require the passage of legislation.
- policy implementation—executing the plan of action by the appropriate agency or agencies.
- policy evaluation—analysis of policy and its impact upon the problem; judging the effectiveness of the policy and making adjustments if necessary.
Domestic policy often refers to the social policies of the United States in the areas of crime prevention, education, energy, the environment, health care, and social welfare.
Although crime prevention has traditionally been a state and local matter, as crime and violence have increased the federal government has become more involved in crime prevention. Lyndon Johnson declared a "war on crime," creating a commission to study the causes of crime and suggest solutions. Today, more crimes are classified as federal crimes, with punishments often more harsh than those for state crimes. Since the shooting of President Ronald Reagan, debate has centered on gun control legislation. President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill, requiring a five-day waiting period and background checks before the purchase of a handgun. Clinton also won congressional support of a ban on the sale of some types of semiautomatic assault weapons and legislation authorizing new federal spending on crime initiatives, including the hiring of new police officers and building new prisons and "boot camps" for juvenile offenders. Clinton's crime bill also listed federal crimes punishable by the death penalty and the "three strikes laws," mandating certain sentences if convicted of a third felony. As the federal government has become more involved in crime prevention, federal agencies have played a larger role.
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collects and reports evidence in matters relating to federal law or the crossing of state borders; provides investigative and lab services to local law enforcement agencies
- The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) prohibits the flow of illegal narcotics into the United States and patrols U.S. borders
- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) administers laws dealing with explosives and firearms and regulates the production and distribution of alcohol and tobacco products
Although public education falls under the authority of the state governments, the federal government has played an increasing role in education. Since the 1950s (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954, and the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik) the major goal of education policy has been to ensure equal access to educational opportunities. Under Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, providing federal funding to public school districts with low-income populations. In 1979 Congress created the Department of Education to coordinate education policy. Congress has also provided programs for higher education, including loans and grant programs for college students. Recent proposals in education have concerned the use of school vouchers that would allow parents to choose the schools their children attend at public expense, and the national testing of students.
In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a bill called No Child Left Behind. This act requires all states to administer proficiency tests in public schools in order to monitor student progress. Though the act has created some improvement in many of America's public schools, many provisions of the legislation remain controversial.
Energy policy has traditionally been one of conservation and the study of alternative and renewable sources of fuel. Newer energy policies have addressed issues such as global warming and toxic waste disposal. In 1980 a superfund was established for clean up of toxic waste sites, and current law provides for the tracking of hazardous chemicals and the disposal of toxic waste. Energy policy often involves highly technical issues about which the average citizen may have limited knowledge. Energy will be an important issue in the coming years.
In the late eighteenth century, the federal government began setting aside public lands as national parks, monuments, and forests. Not until the 1950s, however, did Congress begin passing legislation aimed at protecting the environment and cleaning up polluted air and water. In the 1970s Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce environmental legislation. The Clean Air Acts of 1970 and 1990 were implemented to reduce air pollution. The Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 was designed to clean up the nation's lakes and rivers. Wilderness areas were established, the Endangered Species Act provided government protection of species listed as endangered, and environmental impacts statements required studies and reports of likely environmental impacts be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency. President Obama repeatedly promised in the 2008 campaign that this would be a key issue for his administration.
Unlike Canada or Great Britain, the United States has no national health care system, yet the largest percentage of government spending goes to the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Medicare provides hospitalization insurance for the elderly, and Medicaid provides public assistance in health care for the poor. The government operates several programs aimed at promoting and protecting public health in the United States. The Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Veterans Administration (VA), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are among the agencies involved in promoting public health. Health care was a major campaign issue in the 1992 presidential election, when Bill Clinton campaigned on a plan to address both the high cost of health care and limited access. Clinton's proposals to reform health care in the United States died in Congress. Health care will be a critical issue for President Obama and his successors.
Social welfare began during the New Deal era. The Great Depression led citizens to want more government help against economic downturns and poverty. The Social Security Act (1935) was a first step in this fight. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society continued the war on poverty by creating new programs (Medicare, school aid, job training) designed to prevent poverty. Housing programs and urban renewal have been implemented with the goal of providing adequate housing for all citizens. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan reduced benefits and removed people from eligibility in an effort to reform the social welfare system amid claims of increasing government. Bill Clinton continued to bring reform to the social welfare system by limiting how long a person could receive benefits and giving money to the states to run their own programs. In 1996, the entitlement program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was replaced by a new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Unlike AFDC, TANF is a block grant that limits recipients to no more than five years of assistance. TANF also requires recipients to work, receive vocational training, or participate in community service.
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