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Balance of Power

The American system must be distinguished from the parliamentary system common in many other countries. The President is elected by the people, as are the senators and representatives. The Supreme court is independent of the other two branches. As a result, frequently the President is from one political party while the majority of one or both houses of Congress is from the opposing party. The Supreme Court may disagree with either or both other branches on any particular issue.

So how does anything get done? With a lot of controversy, and a lot of compromise. The system was designed to provide “checks and balances” so that any one branch of the government could not hold too much power. The Congress can frustrate the programs of the President, while the President has the power to veto laws the Congress passes (though the Congress can override a presidential veto with a vote of two-thirds of its membership).

The system worked especially well when, in 1973 and 1974, the Congressional “Watergate” investigation successfully halted President Richard Nixon’s abuse of power. Nixon was forced to resign when it became apparent that he would ultimately be impeached by the House of Represented and probably convicted by the Senate.

The checks and balances system may seem counterproductive to outsiders, but it serves as a true impetus to political compromise among and between the various branches of government. It has assured the survival of the American governmental system over a period of more than two centuries.

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