What is Public Policy?
What is Public Policy?
American federalism has evolved since 1789. Select a current example of an issue that has arisen under the umbrella of state’s rights.
(1) Describe the issue briefly, including summarizing key policy changes over its history.
(2) Have states’ rights have eroded or have been strengthened related to this specific policy?
(3) Should this issue be regulated at a state level or at a federal level? Defend your position.
Lesson Notes Week 1
Public Policy Defined
What is public public policy?
The business of governments – what does our government do (and not do).
Government’s responsibilities regarding public policy have grown over the past 60 years with no signs of stopping.
Federal government spending accounts for about 35% of American gross domestic product (GDP) or $3.5 trillion in 2013.
Example: Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (signed into law in 2010)
Expansion of health insurance coverage to 25 million more Americans
Combination of public programs like Medicaid and private coverage subsidies at an estimated cost of $1.3 trillion over ten years
Example: Housing and financial sector interventions
Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, created Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP funds) so the government could stabilize the housing market by spending $700 billion to purchase assets within the private sector, including many mortgage-backed securities
Over 4.3 million people work for the federal government (1.5+ million are in the military)
Government policy can be broken down into three levels:
Policy choices: decisions made by politicians, civil servants, or others that use power to affect the lives of citizens
Policy outputs: taking choices and putting them into action like spending money, hiring people, writing regulations that affect the economy and society
Policy impacts: the effects of choices and outputs on citizens; are people richer/poorer, safer/in danger, healthier/more sick
Policies emerge from a large number of programs, legislative intentions, and organizational interactions that affect the daily lives of citizens.
Few are decided and executed by a single government program.
Different levels of government (federal vs. state and local) conflict over policies; different federal agencies conflict with each other.
Several instruments of public policy; which instrument to employ depends on effectiveness, whether it is politically appealing, traditions and habits:
Law (enforceable decrees of the state)
Services (ex. defense, education)
Money (62% of taxes collected is returned as transfer payments like social security, unemployment benefits to citizens)
Taxation (used to encourage or discourage certain activities)
Economic instruments (ex. loans or grants)
Moral suasion (ex. “do your duty”)
Policy is strongly influenced by socioeconomic concerns and our political environment.
Principles of conservatism and limited government interference in our daily lives (skepticism and distrust of government in public opinion polls)
Strong participation of the public and voters in political discourse (social media has encouraged this), contrasts with low voter turnout
Wealth and strong economy allow for great latitude with government spending
Highly diverse population, we are still a “melting pot” with relatively open immigration laws
Perception of world leadership, supported by a strong military
Federalism – Relative distribution of power between the federal/national government and each of the 50 states.
Concept that is constantly evolving
Delegated powers belong to federal government and include: the power to regulate interstate commerce, make treaties with foreign nations, raise arms and declare war.
Reserved powers (everything else) for the states.
Concurrent powers are responsibilities shared between federal and state governments.
Powers denied – rights of individual citizens
Highly controversial concept because the boundaries between federal, state and local powers are not clearly outlined, especially with concurrent powers.
87,000+ separate government entities across federal, state and local communities
Risks of conflicting policy positions (ex. medical marijuana, same sex marriage)
Particularly problematic when handling crises (ex. Katrina response, recession)
Watch – Federalism: Lessons of Katrina (from ABC News)
Federal government continues to grow in strength:
Constitution supremacy clause: federal law trumps state laws if there is a conflict; however, it only applies if the federal government is acting within the realm of constitutionally authorized powers (which is at the core of the debate – where are the limits and boundaries?)
Coercive federalism: federal mandates on states for issues typically handled at a local level
Federal grant programs: states deal with increasing service demands and tighter budgets, leads to more federal intervention and dependence on federal funding (ex. education funding)
Example: Abortion remains contentious issue, despite declines in the practice, recent trend of increasing state restrictions on access.
Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade left decision to woman to bear or not bear a child, but also ruled that states can set standards for abortion procedures.
Legal restrictions on abortions vary by state, they include: prohibition of public financing, testing requirements, option for health professionals to refuse to perform abortions, requirement to inform patients of alternatives, informing parents of minors, required waiting periods.
Example: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibited discrimination against disabled persons in private employment, government programs, public accommodations and telecommunications.
Not without controversy – how much “reasonable accommodation” should be provided?
Does not address conditions of implementation or provide sources of funding for locally improved access for the disabled (ex. building a ramp, who pays?)