Types of Public Policy in the United States

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  • 0:02 Public Policy Overview
  • 0:33 Domestic Policy
  • 2:35 Foreign Policy
  • 3:52 Porous Policy Boundaries
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for six years.

'What should the government do about it?' This is a fundamental public policy question, and the scope of 'it' continues to expand in our modern society. In this lesson, you'll learn about different types of public policy in the United States.

Public Policy - An Overview

Senator John Smith is a United States Senator who is up for reelection. Tonight, he is engaging in a debate with Jane Doe who is challenging him for his Senate seat. The focus of tonight's debate is public policy, which is the objectives that a government sets regarding the health, welfare and safety of its citizens and the actions it takes to accomplish the objectives. You can generally divide public policy developed and implemented by the United States into domestic policy and foreign policy. Let's take a closer look.

Domestic Policy

The senatorial candidates start their debate with issues of domestic policies, which are policies that are generally confined to problems and issues inside the country. They generally address the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the country. Domestic policy can be further broken up into several sub-categories, including:

1. Social policy, which relates to issues that affect the general welfare of everyday citizens.

In the United States, this includes social insurance programs, like Social Security and unemployment insurance. It also includes public assistance programs, like cash assistance, housing assistance and food stamps.

2. Public health policy, which focuses on the health of the population and includes both efforts to promote and protect the health of the population.

Federal programs providing health care include Medicare and Medicaid. Public heath also involves implementing and enforcing regulations protecting the public, such as food and drug regulations.

3. Education policy, which is concerned with the education of citizens.

Traditionally, primary and secondary education has been the purview of local government, but federal and state governments have become more involved. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education is a cabinet-level department.

4. Environmental policy, which focuses on regulating the manner in which we interact with the environment, such as clean water and air regulations.

It may also include promoting certain sustainable activities, such as recycling and development of renewable energy sources.

5. Criminal justice policy, which is concerned with law and order.

It involves deciding what behavior will be illegal and how perpetrators will be punished. It may also involve crime prevention programs, such as anti-drug campaigns.

6. Economic policy, which attempts to create and maintain a strong economy.

It seeks to accomplish this through manipulation of the tax rate, government spending, interest rates and money supply. Economic policy also involves regulating business activities and consumer transactions.

Foreign Policy

After finishing their debate on domestic policy, the two candidates move onto foreign policy. Foreign policy is the strategic plan of a government in dealings with other countries and international actors on the world stage, ranging from the United Nations to a terrorist cell. Execution of foreign policies involves several activities, including:

1. Diplomacy, which is the management of relations between foreign countries through peaceful means, including negotiation, treaties and foreign aid.

2. Defense policy, which involves providing for the international security of the country through the projection of military power.

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Additional Activities

Public Policy and Current Events

The United States is a country very often on front-page news around the world. Now that you have a detailed understanding of the kinds of public policy, both foreign and domestic, that are important in United States politics, it's time to apply your knowledge to events in the news today. Write your answers in point form or as a persuasive essay. If possible, create a speech as though you are a politician and present your findings and ideas to your classmates.

Porous Policy Boundaries

As this lesson states, there are many cases where foreign and domestic policy have significant overlap. Looking at current headlines, find three specific issues that you think require both domestic and foreign policy to address. What are they? Why do they apply to foreign and domestic policy at once? How is the United States government addressing those issues? How, if at all, would you change the US's current approach to one or more of these issues?

Domestic Public Policy

No matter where you live in the world, domestic public policy impacts the laws, services, and taxes applicable to you. Using the list of policy issues given in this lesson, determine what kinds of public policy are in place where you live. If you live in the US, look at both national and state regulations. How does your government regulate environmental policy? What about education? Healthcare? Criminal justice? Which elements of public policy impact you the most?

Run For Senate

Jane Doe defeated John Smith in the election, but next time Jane's seat in the Senate comes up, you want to be the one fighting her for it. What would your approach be to the aspects of domestic and foreign public policy listed in this lesson? Assume that Jane Doe is upholding the current status quo. How would your approach differ from the approach taken by your government today? Which aspects of these policies do you feel the most passionate about, and why? Will you fight for radical reform or moderate change? What do you want your country to be?

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