The government is the steward of the public’s money and provides a variety of services to Americans, from national defense and education to transportation and food safety. These services and programs are financed by taxpayer dollars, with the federal government collecting taxes and borrowing to pay for them. The government also regulates businesses in a number of ways to ensure that they do not harm the environment, abuse workers or defraud consumers. Some people believe that the government should not be involved in business at all, while others argue that government plays a critical role in protecting the public from unscrupulous businesses.
Many people use the government in their daily lives without even realizing it. For example, the government sets standards for milk production so that it is safe to drink, inspects buildings before they can be occupied by new tenants and requires that drivers pass a driver’s test before getting behind the wheel. The government is also involved in many other aspects of daily life, such as providing a social security benefits system and national parks for all citizens to enjoy.
Most Americans say they think the government has a responsibility to provide a variety of goods and services. Some of the items that receive broad support include clean air and water, high-quality education and health insurance. In addition, most Americans say the federal government should be responsible for helping retirees have an adequate standard of living. However, when it comes to specific areas of the budget, opinions differ. For example, lower-income adults are more likely to say the federal government should provide low-cost internet access than are middle- and higher-income adults.
Government regulation often happens when Congress passes laws that require a specific action by a government agency, such as a department of the military or the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency then creates a rule that further interprets the language of the law. This process is regulated by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which defines basic rules for the agency’s organization, procedures and rulemaking. The APA also guarantees that the public can comment on a proposed rule and allows courts to review any contested regulations.
A significant portion of the federal government’s funding is spent on mandatory spending, such as Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ benefits. This type of spending does not require an annual vote by Congress, but the president must submit a budget to Congress each year. The president’s budget proposal contains estimates of revenue and expenses for the fiscal year, which runs from October 1 of one year through September 30 of the next. Discretionary spending accounts for about half of the total federal funding, and is set each year during the appropriations process. This includes federal agency programs and initiatives such as cancer research and space exploration.