Checks and Balances: How Much Can a U.S. President Do?




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Donald Trump has a broad presidential agenda that encompasses foreign trade, immigration, deregulation, taxes and investment in U.S. infrastructure. These policies are poised to impact certain industries over others, such as health care, energy, financial services and technology.1

Every presidential candidate enters the campaign with a platform of changes and priorities, which presumably dominate the winner’s administrative policies for the next term. However, the U.S. Constitution was written in such a way to spread the power of change so that there is a system of checks and balances, thereby no one branch controls the democratic process.

While the U.S. president may be the most powerful leader in the world, there are in fact limits to his ability to affect change. Governing power is shared among the executive branch (the president), the legislative branch (Congress) and the judicial branch (the Supreme Court).

The foremost job of the president is to implement and enforce the laws passed by Congress. The president can sign a piece of legislation into law or veto it (although a veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of both houses in Congress).2

One of the president’s most significant powers is that of commander-in-chief of America’s armed forces. In that regard, an aide who accompanies him at all times is charged with carrying a nondescript briefcase that holds the “nuclear football” — the launch codes to activate the nation’s nuclear missiles.3

Congress is the legislative body responsible for declaring war. However, there have been plenty of instances when America engaged in overseas military combat without actually declaring war, especially since the Authorization for Use of Military Force law passed in 2001.4

The most direct power the president bestows is through an executive order, which is a presidential decree that holds the force of law. Interestingly, it’s possible for a future seated president to reverse a prior president’s executive orders.5

As for the economy, the president’s influence is manifested in his fiscal budget proposal each year, something both sides of the political fence will be interested to see. On one hand, the new president has vowed to cut income and corporate taxes. On the other, rebuild the military and invest in infrastructure — all while keeping Social Security and Medicare intact.6



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This content is provided for informational purposes only. It is provided by third parties and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. The information is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions, nor should it be construed as advice designed to meet the particular needs of an individual’s situation.We are not affiliated with any government agency including the Social Security Administration.

1 Bain & Company. Nov. 9, 2016. “What the US Election Means for Business and the Economy.” http://www.bain.com/publications/articles/what-the-us-election-means-for-business-and-the-economy.aspx. Accessed Dec 20, 2016.
2 The White House. 2016. “The Executive Branch.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/1600/executive-branch. Accessed Dec 20, 2016.
3 The Week. Dec. 10, 2016. “What powers will Donald Trump have as US president?” http://www.theweek.co.uk/25253/what-powers-will-donald-trump-have-as-us-president. Accessed Dec 20, 2016.
4 Jennie Wood. Infoplease. “I Declare War.” http://www.infoplease.com/us/government/war-without-congress.html. Accessed Jan. 13, 2017.
5 Susan Milligan. US News & World Report. Dec. 16, 2016. “The Devil Is in the Details.” http://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2016-12-16/donald-trump-could-use-executive-orders-to-undo-barack-obamas-work. Accessed Dec 20, 2016.
6 Jacob Pramuk. CNBC. Dec. 19, 2016. “Trump’s hard-line budget director choice may not believe in his campaign promises.” http://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/19/trumps-hardline-budget-director-choice-may-clash-on-campaign-promises.html. Accessed Dec 20, 2016.

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