Checks and Balances
Two important safeguards in the operation of our Federal government are (1) separation of power and (2) checks and balances. They are not the same thing.
Separation of Power means that the Federal government is divided into 3 separate branches, each operating independently. The three branches of government are the legislative branch (Congress - the House and Senate), the executive branch (the President, Vice President, and Cabinet), and the judicial branch (The Supreme Court.)
Checks and Balances means that each of these branches have some power to check the actions of another branch.
The men who wrote the Constitution wanted to make sure that no one branch became too powerful. First, they set up the three branches of government, and carefully described the powers of each branch in the Constitution. Then they created a system of checks and balances by giving powers to one branch that they could use to limit control by another branch. This system of checks and balances is also described in the Constitution.
For example, the President of the United States is the head of the executive branch.
- The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces.
- The president appoints cabinet members, each of whom is the head of an important department in government, including the Secretaries of State, Treasury, Labor, Commerce, Defense, Agriculture, the Interior, Health & Education & Welfare, Homeland Security, the Attorney General and the Postmaster General.
- The president also appoints ambassadors to foreign countries and judges for the Federal court.
- BUT - the president cannot get any money to pay anyone without the approval of Congress. AND - nearly everyone appointed by the president must be approved by Congress before they can take office.
Checks and balances, that's what the founding fathers wanted to accomplish and they did!