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Health Maintenance Organization

Organizations that provide health care for yearly fees. These plans limit the choice of doctors and treatments. 50% of Americans are enrolled in programs like this.


Program added to Social security in 1965 that allows older Americans to purchase inexpensive coverage.


Program designed to provide health care for poor Americans. Funded by both state and national government.

national health insurance

Program that would have the government pay for all citizens' medical care.

Environmental Protection Agency

The largest Independent Regulatory Agency. Created in 1970 to administer environmental protection policy.

National Environmental Policy Act

Passed in 1969, this requires agencies to file environmental impact statements.

environmental impact statements

A statement of the possible environmental effects a policy may have that must be sent to the EPA before instituting the policy.

Clean Air Act of 1970

Law aimed at combating air pollution.

Water Pollution Control Act of 1972

law intended to clean up the nation's rivers and lakes.

Endangered Species Act of 1973

Law requiring the government to protect species listed as endangered.


Created in 1980 to clean up hazardous waste sites. The money is generated through taxing chemical products.

global warming

The increase in the earth's temperature that many scientist believe is occurring because of greenhouse gases collecting in the atmosphere.

foreign policy

Policy that involves relations with the rest of the world. The president is the chief initiator of this.

United Nations

Created in 1945, this includes 192 member nations with a mission to maintain peace in the world.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Created in 1949, this links the US, Canada, and most Western European nations through mutual defense.

European Union

An economic union between many European nations that coordinates trade, labor policies, and monetary policy. This makes these countries one economic unit.

secretary of state

The key adviser to the president on foreign policy.

secretary of defense

The key adviser to the president on military policy and somewhat on foreign policy as well.

Joint chiefs of staff

A groups consisting of the commanding officers of the branches of the armed forces that advises the president on military policy.

central intelligence agency

Created after WWII, this agency coordinates secret American activities to gain intelligence abroad.


The policy in war to stay out of conflict with other countries. The US practiced this throughout most of its history.

containment doctrine

A foreign policy maneuver that calls to isolate/contain a certain country to preserve peace. The US acted this way towards the Soviet Union after WWII.

Cold War

Hostilities between the two superpowers after WWII, the US and the Soviet Union. This lasted until the collapse of the former in 1989.

arms race

A competition between the US and the Soviet Union to see who could generate the most expansive weapons arsenal.


A relaxing of tensions between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1970's.


A state wherein a countries actions affect the economic well-being of citizens in another country.


A tax on imported goods

balance of trade

Ration of a country's imports to its exports

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Organization of Middle East countries to control the amount of oil each exports which ultimately determines the price of oil in other countries.

social welfare policies

Policies that provide benefits to individuals, either through entitlements or means testing

entitlement programs

Government benefits that certain qualified individuals are entitled to by law, regardless of need

Means-tested programs

Government programs available only to individuals who qualify for them based on specific needs

income distribution

The "shares" of the national income earned by various groups


The amount of funds collected between any two points in time


The value of assets owned

poverty line

A method used to count the number of poor people, it considers what a family must spend for an "austere" standard of living

feminization of poverty

The increasing concentration of poverty among women, especially unmarried women and their children

progressive tax

A tax by which the government takes a greater share of the income of the rich than of the poor-for example, when a rich family pays 50% of its income in taxes and a poor family pays 5%

proportional tax

A tax by which the government takes the same share of income from everyone, rich and poor alike-for example, when both a rich family and a poor family pay 20%

regressive tax

A tax in which the burden falls relatively more heavily on low-income groups than on wealthy taxpayers. The opposite of a progressive tax, in which tax rates increase as income increases

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

A "negative income tax" that provides income to very poor individuals in lieu of charging them federal income tax

transfer payments

Benefits given by the government directly to individuals. Transfer payments may be either cash transfers, such as Social Security payments and retirement payments to former government employees, or in-kind transfers, such as food stamps and low-interest loans for college eduction

Social Security Act of 1935

Created both the Social Security Program and a national assistance program for poor children, usually called AFDC

Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA)

The official name of the welfare reform law of 1996, said each state would receive a fixed amount of money to run its own welfare program, people on welfare find work within 2 years or they loose all their benefits, lifetime max of 5 years for welfare

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

Once called "Aid to Families with Dependent Children", the new name for public assistance to needy families


An economic system in which individuals and corporations, not the government, own the principal means of production and seek profits

mixed economy

An economic system in which the government is deeply involved in economic decisions through its role as regulatory, consumer, subsidizer, taxer, employer, and borrower

multinational corporations

Businesses with vast holdings in many countries, some of which have annual budgets exceeding that of many foreign governments

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)

The federal agency created during the New Deal that regulates the stock market, it regulates stock trade

minimum wage

The legal minimum hourly wage for large employers

labor union

An organization of workers intended to engage in collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

Negotiations between representatives of labor unions and management to determine pay and acceptable working conditions

unemployment rate

As measured by the BUreau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of the labor force actively seeking work but unable to find jobs


The rise in prices for consumer goods

consumer price index (CPI)

The key measure of inflation that relates the rise in prices over time


The principle that government should not meddle in the economy

monetary policy

Based on monetarism, monetary policy is the manipulation of the supply of money in private hands by which the government can control the economy, consists of buying and selling bonds and setting interest rates->Fed


An economic theory holding that the supply of money is the key to a nation's economic health. Monetarists believe that too much cash and credit in circulation produces inflation.

Federal Reserve System

The main instrument for making monetary policy in the United States. It was created by Congress in 1913 to regulate the lending practices of banks and thus the money supply

fiscal policy

The policy that describes the impact of the federal budget-taxes, spending, and borrowing-on the economy. Fiscal policy is almost entirely determined by Congress and the president, who are the budget makers

Keynesian economic theory

The theory emphasizing that government spending and deficits can help the economy weather its normal ups and downs. Proponents of this theory advocate using the power of government to stimulate the economy when it is lagging.

supply-side economics

An economic theory advocated by President Reagan holding that too much income goes to taxes so that too little money is available for purchasing and that the solution is to cut taxes and return purchasing power to consumers


Economic policy of shielding an economy from imports

World Trade Organization (WTO)

International organization that regulates international trade

antitrust policy

A policy designed to ensure competition and prevent monopoly, which is the control of a market by one company

Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

The federal agency formed in 1913 and assigned the task of approving all food products and drugs sold in the United States. All drugs, with the exception of tobacco, must have FDA authorization

National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act)

A 1935 law, also known as the Wagner Act, that guarantees workers the right of collective bargaining, sets down rules to protect unions and organizers, and created the National Labor Relations Board to regulate labor-management relations

Relative Deprivation

When people relate their current economic standing to that of another group

Social Security Trust Fund

the account into which social security employee and employer contributions are deposited and used to pay out eligible recipients

Underemployment rate

Includes all those who are unmployed. Both those actively searching for work and discouraged workers


the institutions and processes through which public policies are made for a society

public goods

goods such as clean air and clean water, that everyone must share


the process by which we select our governmental leaders and what policies these leaders pursue. Politics produces authoritative decisions about public issues

political participation

all the activities used by citizens to influence the selection of political leaders or the policies they pursue. The most common, but not the only, means of political participation in a democracy is voting. Other means include protest and civil disobedience.

single-issue groups

groups that have a narrow interest, then do dislike compromise, and often draw membership from people new to politics

policymaking system

the process by which political problems are communicated by the voters and acted upon by government policymakers. The policymaking system begins with people's needs and expectations for governmental action, When people confront government officials with problems that they want solved, they are trying to influence the government's policy agenda

linkage institutions

the channels or access points through which issues and people's policy preferences get on the government's policy agenda. In the US, elections, political parties, interest groups, and the mass media are the three main linkage institutions

policy agenda

the issues that attract the serious attention of public officials and other people actually involve in politic at any given point

political issue

an issue that arises when people disagree about a problem and a public policy choice

policymaking institutions

the branches of government charged with taking action on political issues. The US Constitution established three policymaking institutions—the Congress, the presidency, and the courts. Today, the power of the bureaucracy is so great that most political scientists consider it a fourth policymaking institution

public policy

a choice that government makes in response to a political issue. A policy is a course of action taken with regard to some problem


a system of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the public's preferences

majority rule

A fundamental principle of traditional democratic theory. In a democracy, choosing among alternatives requires that the majority's desire be respected

minority rights

A principle of traditional democratic theory that guarantees rights to those who do not belong to majorities and allows that they might join majorities through persuasion and reasoned argument.


a basic principle of traditional democratic theory that describes the relationship between the few leaders and the many followers

pluralist theory

a theory of government and politics emphasizing that politics is mainly a competition among groups, each one pressing for its own preferred policies

elite (and class) theory

a theory of government and politics contending that societies are divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite will rule, regardless of the formal niceties of governmental organization


a theory of government and politics contending that groups are so strong that government is weakened

policy gridlock

a condition that occurs when no coalition is strong enough to form a majority and establish policy. The result is that nothing may get done.

gross domestic product

the sum total of the value of all the goods and services produced in a nation


the belief that individuals should be left on their own by the government, One of the primary reasons for the comparatively small scope of American government is the prominence of this belief in American political thought and practice.

criminal law

Group of laws that defines and sets punishments for offenses against society

civil law

The branch of law dealing with the definition and enforcement of all private or public rights, as opposed to criminal matters.


The process of resolving a dispute through the court system. Most typically a lawsuit.

standing to sue

The requirement that plaintiffs have a serious interest in a case, which depends on whether they have sustained or are likely to sustain a direct and substantial injury from a party or an action of government

class action suits

Lawsuits permitting a small number of people to sue on behalf of all other people similarly situated.

justiciable disputes

A requirement that to be heard a case mush be capable of being settled as a matter to law rather than on other grounds as is commonly the case in legislative bodies.

amicus curiae briefs

Legal briefs submitted by a "friend of the court" for the purpose of raising additional points of view and presenting information not contained in the briefs of the formal parties. These briefs attempt to influence a court's decision.

original jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of courts that hear a case first, usually in a trial. These are the courts that determine the facts about a case.

appellate jurisdiction

The jurisdiction of courts that hear cases brought to them on appeal from lower courts. These courts do not review the factual record, only the legal issues involved.

district courts

The 91 federal courts of original jurisdiction. They are the only federal courts in which trials are held and in which juries may be impaneled.

courts of appeal

Appellate courts empowered to review all final decisions of district courts, except in rare cases. In addition, they also hear appeals to orders of many federal regulatory agencies.

Supreme Court

The pinnacle of the American judicial system. The Court ensures uniformity in interpreting national laws, resolves conflicts among states, and maintains national supremacy in law. It has both original jurisdiction and appellate jurisdiction, but unlike other federal courts, it controls its own agenda.

senatorial courtesy

An unwritten tradition whereby nominations for state-level federal judicial posts are not confirmed if they are opposed by a senator of the president's party from the state in which the nominee will serve. The tradition also applies to courts of appeal when there is opposition from the nominee's state senator.

solicitor general

A presidential appointee and the third-ranking office in the Department of Justice. The solicitor general is in charge of the appellate court litigation of the federal government.


A statement of legal reasoning behind a judicial decision. The content of an opinion may be as important as the decision itself.

stare decisis

A Latin phrase meaning "let the decision stand." Most cases reaching appellate courts are settled on this principle.


How similar cases have been decided in the past.

judicial implementation

How and whether court decisions are translated into actual policy, thereby affecting the behavior of others. The courts rely on other units of government to enforce their decisions.

original intent

A view that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the original intent of the Framers. Many conservatives support this view.

Marbury v. Madison

The 1803 case in which Chief Justice John Marshall and his associates first asserted the right of the Supreme Court to determine the meaning of the U.S.. Constitution. The decision established the Court's power of judicial review over acts of Congress, in this case the Judiciary Act of 1789.

judicial review

The power of the courts to determine whether acts of Congress and, by implication, the executive are in accord with the U.S. Constitution. Judicial review was established by John Marshall and his associates in Marburg v. Madison.

United States v. Nixon

The 1914 case in which the Supreme Court unanimously held that the doctrine of executive privilege was implicit in the Constitution but could not be extended to protect documents relevant to criminal prosecutions.

judicial restraint

A judicial philosophy in which judges play minimal policymaking roles, leaving that duty strictly to the legislatures.

judicial activism

A judicial philosophy in which judges make bold policy decisions, even charting new constitutional ground. Advocates of this approach emphasize that the courts can correct pressing needs, especially those unmet by the majoritarian political process.

political questions

A doctrine developed by the federal courts and used as a means to avoid deciding some cases, principally those involving conflicts between the president and Congress.

statutory construction

The judicial interpretation of an act of Congress. In some cases where statutory construction is an issue, Congress passes new legislation to clarify existing laws.


A way of organizing a nation so that two or more levels of government have formal authority over the same land and people. It is a system of shared power between units of government.

Unitary Governements

A way of organizing a nation so that all power resides in the central government. Most national governments today are unitary governments.

Intergovernmental Relations

The workings of the federal system- the entire set of interactions among national, state, and local governments.

Supremacy Clause

Article VI of the Constitution, which makes the Constitution, national laws, and treaties supreme over state laws when the national government is acting within its constitutional limits.

Tenth Amendment

The constitutional amendment stating, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Enumerated Powers

Powers of the federal government that are specifically addressed in the Constitution; for Congress, these powers are listed in Article I, Section 8, and include the power to coin money, regulate its value, and impose taxes.

Implied Powers

Powers of the federal government that go beyond those enumerated in the Constitution. The Constitution stated that Congress has the power to "make all laws necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the powers enumerated in Article I.

Elastic Clause

The final paragraph of Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution, which authorizes Congress to pass all laws "necessary and proper" to carry out the enumerated powers.

Gibbons v. Ogden

A landmark case decided in 1824 in which the Supreme Court interpreted very broadly the clause in Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, encompassing virtually every form of commercial activity.

Full Faith and Credit

A clause in Artivle IV, Section 1, of the Constitution requiring each state to recognize the official documents and civil judgments rendered by the courts of other states.


A legal process whereby an alleged criminal offender is surrendered by the officials of one state to officials of the state in which the crime is alleged to have been committed.

Privelages and Immunities

A clause in Article IV, Section 2, of the Constitution according citizens of each state most of the privelages of citizens of other states.

Dual Federalism

A system of government in which both the states and the national government remain supreme within their own spheres, each responsible for some policies.

Cooperative Federalism

A system of government in which powers and policy assignments are shared between states and the national government. They may also share costs, administration, and even blame for programs that work poorly.


Transferring responsibility for policies from the federal government to state and local governments.

Fiscal Federalism

The pattern of spending, taxing, and providing frants in the federal system; it is the cornerstone of the national government's relations with state and local governments.

Categorical Grants

Federal grants that can be used only for specific purposes, or "categories," of state and local spending. They come with strings attached, such as nondiscrimination provisions.

Project Grants

Federal categorical grants given for specific purposes and awarded on the basis of the merits of applications.

Formula Grants

Federal categorical grants distributed according to a formula specified in legislation or in administrative regulations.

Block Grants

Federal grants given more or less automatically to states or communities to support broad programs in areas such as community development and social services.


A nation's basic law. It creates political institutions, assigns or divides powers in government, and often provides certain guarantees to citizens. Can be either written or unwritten.

Declaration of Independence

The document approved by representatives of the American colonies in 1776 that stated their grievances against the British monarch and declared their independence.

natural rights

Rights inherent in human beings, not dependent on governments, which include life, liberty, and property. The concept was central to English philosopher John Locke's theories about government and was widely accepted among America's Founders.

consent of the governed

The idea that government derives its authority by sanction of the people.

limited government

The idea that certain restrictions should be placed on government to protect the natural rights of citizens.

articles of Confederation

The first constitution of the United States, adopted by Congress in 1777 and enacted in 1781. Most authority rested with the state legislatures.

Shay's Rebellion

A series of attacks on courthouses by a small band of farmers led by Revolutionary War Captain Daniel Shays to block foreclosure proceedings.

U.S. Constitution

The document written in 1787 and ratified in 1788 that sets forth the institutional structure of U.S. government and the tasks these institutions perform. It replaced the Articles of Confederation.


Interest groups arising form the unequal distribution of property or wealth. James Madison expressed concern over these in Federalist Paper No. 10 when he warned of the instability in government caused by these.

New Jersey Plan

The proposal at the Constitutional Convention that called for equal representation of each state in Congress regardless of the state's population.

Virginia Plan

The proposal tat the Constitutional Convention that called for representation of each state in Congress in proportion to that state's share of the U.S. population.

Connecticut Compromise

The compromise reached at the Constitutional Convention that established two houses of Congress: the House of Representatives, in which representation is based on a state's share of the U.S. population, and the Senate, in which each state has two representatives.

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