Accessibility links

Breaking News

How the Job Description for US President Has Gotten Longer Over Time

A listener in Cambodia asks about the duties and responsibilities of the president. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

A listener in Cambodia heard our recent call for questions about the process of electing an American president. Tath Sok in Phnom Penh wants to know about the duties and responsibilities of the president.

This question touches on a continual debate in American society. The separation of powers in the federal government was designed to create a system of checks and balances. Experts could argue for hours about the limits to the powers of the president, Congress and the courts. But we just wanted a few facts, so we looked in the World Book Encyclopedia.

The Constitution gives the president the duties of chief administrator of the nation and commander of the armed forces. But developments including court decisions, laws and customs have expanded those duties. Today the president has seven major areas of responsibility.

First, as chief executive, the president is responsible for enforcing federal actions and developing federal policies. The president is also responsible for preparing the national budget and appointing federal officials.

The president nominates cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and other officials who must be confirmed by the Senate. There are other jobs in government agencies that the president can fill without Senate approval.

As commander in chief, the president shares some military powers with Congress. Under the Constitution only Congress has the power to declare war.

The president also serves as foreign policy director, as the encyclopedia calls it. For this job, the Constitution gives the president the power to appoint ambassadors, make treaties and receive foreign diplomats. Treaties and appointments of ambassadors require Senate approval.

As legislative leader, the president has influence over many laws passed by Congress. The president has the power to veto any bill. But if a vetoed bill is passed again, this time by a two-thirds majority in both houses, the bill can still become law.

The president is also the head of a political party and has responsibilities as popular leader and chief of state.

So these are the main duties of the president. But our listener in Cambodia would also like to know how much the president earns. The job currently pays four hundred thousand dollars a year.

Just this week, in a blog at, political reporter Peter Baker wrote about the current debate over presidential powers. He noted criticisms of President Bush's claims of powers by Hillary Clinton, the Supreme Court and others.

But he also wrote about the long history of battles over presidential powers, or what is known as "executive privilege." Presidents have expanded their powers during wartime and also during times of peace. Peter Baker noted that before Thomas Jefferson was president, he was an activist for limited central government. But then he more than doubled the size of the country on his own with the purchase of the Louisiana territory.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.