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"We the People..." The Preamble to the United States Constitution starts with that phrase. What does it mean? It is a phrase we hear often, but what does it mean? How do "We, the people" actually do anything together with one another, in a country as large and diverse as our country is? How do we maintain a sense of union over time? One way is through exercising shared responsibility for certain services the government provides.
These services are paid for through a system of taxation. What are the services that the federal government provides, and why should everyone in the country pay for them? This lesson will help you understand the government's role in providing some protections and services to all our country's citizens -- and the reason we pay taxes to fund those protections and services.
You will explore the meaning behind some of the language in our Constitution and the common benefits that our federal taxes support. You will also research specific examples of services that are funded by federal tax revenues and debate whether these should be paid for through federal or state and local money.
listen to the SchoolHouse Rock recording of the Preamble . Define the main phrases used (e.g. establish justice; ensure domestic tranquility) and discuss the services those phrases refer to in our society. Also discuss how these services are supported. Who benefits from them? How? Work with a partner or alone and use Charting the Constitution to record your thoughts.
Interactive Activity Charting the Constitution
Activity Sheet: Charting the Constitution
Use The Economics of Taxation page to identify additional examples of government services and to learn why these services are provided by the government. Where does each of the services fit in the list of Preamble statements you described? Make a list or discuss in a group the reasons for providing these services through taxes. Why should they be provided by the government, rather than private companies? What arguments can you make either in favor of or against the federal government providing them?
Work with a partner to research one of the federal programs listed below. Use the referenced fact sheets from the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance to summarize the services provided by the program.
Find the program you selected on the U.S. Office of Management and Budget's Budget Information for States page and use the spreadsheet provided in that document to find out how much money is provided for their state to manage the program.
- How do you think this program benefits people in your state?
- Who benefits from this program?
- Who pays for this program?
- Why should we use federal taxes -- which are paid by all citizens of the nation -- to fund the program you've selected?
- Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program
- Nutrition Program for the Elderly
- State Energy Program
- Coastal Zone Management Program
- 21st Century Community Learning Centers
- Unemployment Insurance Program
- Special Education Preschool Grants
Choose a format to present your arguments to the class. You can host a debate, write a speech, prepare a short presentation or create a poster or brochure arguing for or against federal funding for the program you selected. Keep in mind the issues you've discussed in this lesson: is it appropriate for the government to provide the service or protection you researched? If so, how should the government get the funds for it? If not, why not?
Discuss the following questions with your classmates.
- Why should the government provide services like the ones you researched today?
- Why can't or don't private businesses provide them?
- Why should all citizens of the country pay for services that are provided to states in different amounts?
- In your opinion does the government provide services that should be provided by private business? Explain your answer.