The political process has had a major impact on the budgetary process overall. The core of the difference between the two major political parties in the United States is a question over the role of government and over governmental spending. Some, it seems, are looking for a ‘balanced’ governmental budget, and when the government runs deficits, they use this as a political tool. Others believe that it can be healthy at times to run a deficit, and while they are concerned about the impact of the national debt on the future of the country, they do not believe that it is necessary to keep the budget balanced at all times.
Not only does the political process play a role in determining how much is spent, but it also plays a major role in determining just where the money goes. There are more than just party interests in play, as well. Some congress members are known for bringing home the pork, so to speak, so they work for their constituent interests. A person from Michigan might ensure, for instance, that the budget has enough in it for the auto industry, while someone from Iowa might work to ensure that the budget has money enough for farm subsidies. Those things can cut across party lines, as well, with senators who do not typically believe in government spending fighting for more money for their particular state’s cause. There are some party-based interests in play, of course. Democrats can sometimes get beat up in the media and in political advertising when they seek to allot money to social services, as Republicans decry the so-called ‘welfare state.’ Especially in years when certain party members are facing a stern challenge from a challenger, political pressures can heavily influence whether or not a congress member decides to vote for one thing or another.

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There are a few different ways that a manager can exert pressure on the process in order to influence the budgetary arrangement. Managers can put pressure on congress members through private meetings. There may be an opportunity for a government manager to meet with a person who has control of the legislature’s purse strings in order to advocate for a given cause. Making these sorts of connections can be quite difficult, and private meetings do not put any kind of public pressure on the legislator. They are simply quiet and polite suggestions.

In addition, one might use public pressure in order to influence the process. A manager could use a media-based campaign to advocate for a certain cause. For instance, if a department needed money in order to perform some core function that was very popular with the public at large, then the manager of that department could speak with newspaper or television reporters in order to essentially argue why, without getting the money that it needs, the department will struggle to provide the core function that the public has grown so accustomed to.

The other option is for a manager to use the public in order to put pressure on the people who have control of the budget. Ultimately, legislators and others who control the budget are beholden to the voters, and political pressures can help to drive outcomes. This means that the manager might want to reach out to the people in meaningful ways, getting voters and special interest groups to care about that particular issue. By getting these individuals involved in a meaningful way, the manager would be able to apply pressure without feeling or seeming like he was applying pressure. This would create the idea type and amount of pressure to facilitate a change.

The federal government’s ‘social insurance’ receipts describe the government’s running of programs like Social Security and Medicare. They take this money directly out of paychecks from individuals, and they administrate these programs on their own. One of the tenets of federalism is that in the separation of power between the state and federal government, the federal government should facilitate those programs which it has the power and ability to facilitate. The running of these programs is a good example of that. As a national program, both Social Security and Medicare require the participation of large amounts of people in order for the programs to have success. This is because, if one depended upon one state or another to facilitate these programs, then their purpose might not be achieved. ‘Insurance’ programs are designed to pool resources and pool the risk. Administering a program just in one state would create tremendous risk because, if the economy of one state went under, then the state would not be able to fund the social insurance programs for its citizens. Social insurance programs run by the federal government, however, allow residents of various states to pool their resources in order to avoid the risk that goes along with one state trying to run such a program. This presents an excellent example of the federal government doing what it has the power to do, and what it can do better than the states could do. If federalism is designed to get the most out of state government while also getting the most out of the federal government in an effort to give human beings a brand of government that is ultimately effective, then the federal government must be in charge of things like social insurance programs.

Looking at the state budget, one can see that there is a very large section for ‘intergovernmental revenue.’ This is revenue that comes from other types of government, including local government receipts and money that is sent from the federal government. The federal government often sends money to the states in order to do things that is in the federal interest. For instance, the federal government can sometimes send money to states in order to run programs like Head Start for children or to run pilot criminal justice programs. The idea there is that the federal government would like to see progress in the areas of childhood education or criminal justice, but the federal government does not want to be the entity that is charge of bringing about these changes. Rather, the federal government wants to use the states as ‘laboratories of democracy.’ This is a very good thing in the end, and it demonstrates the sort of shared common purpose between the different levels of government. The federal government, with its ability to tax the people, has the money to give the states through grants and the like. The states, then, can use the money in a way that they see fit in order to bring about the outcomes that the federal government is interested in. Montana and South Carolina might try something completely different in an effort to achieve the same goal. After a few years, all states can look at the results and try to see what works best, with each implementing the better plan. This type of spending is a decidedly good thing, and it demonstrates that when there is cooperative spending between the different levels of government, there can be a more effective policy environment where real problems are being solved by real policies.

  • Denhardt, R., Denhardt, J., & Blanc, T. (2013).’Public administration: An action orientation. Cengage Learning.
  • Rhodes, R. A. (2000).’Governance and public administration'(pp. 54-90). Debating Governance: Authority, Steering and Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.