Congressional Appropriations

It is important to know that it is the Congress which retains the authority on how financial resources are spent in the US Government. Congress retains the “power of the purse”. The power of the purse is vested in the Congress as laid down in the Constitution of the United States, Article I.

Congress—and in particular, the House of Representatives—is invested with the “power of the purse,” the ability to tax and spend public money for the national government.

“All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.”

— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 7, clause 1

“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
— U.S. Constitution, Article I, section 9, clause 7

Congress annually considers several appropriations measures, which provide discretionary funding for numerous activities—for example, national defense, education, and homeland security—as well as general government operations. Congress has developed certain rules and practices for the consideration of appropriations measures, referred to as the congressional appropriations process.

Appropriations measures are under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. In recent years, these measures have provided approximately 35% to 39% of total federal spending. The remainder of federal spending comprises direct (or mandatory) spending, controlled by House and Senate legislative committees, and net interest on the public debt.

However, in terms of FOREIGN AID, less than 1 percent of the $4 trillion federal budget goes to foreign aid. The largest portion of the money goes to health: a third of the U.S. foreign aid budget in 2014, or more than $5.3 billion. The next two biggest portions go toward economic development and humanitarian assistance. Small sums of aid support democratic elections in other countries. A tiny portion goes to protect forests in countries where logging is destroying natural habitats. Some aid funds programs that train local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking.

The annual appropriations cycle is initiated with the President’s budget submission, which is due on the first Monday in February. This is followed by congressional consideration of a budget resolution that, in part, sets spending ceilings for the upcoming fiscal year. The target date for completion of the budget resolution is April 15. Committee and floor consideration of the annual appropriations bills occurs during the spring and summer months and may continue through the fall and winter until annual appropriations are enacted. Floor consideration of appropriations measures is subject to procedural rules that may limit the content of those measures and any amendments thereto.

Congress has established a process that provides for two separate types of measures associated with discretionary spending: authorization bills and appropriation bills. These measures perform different functions. Authorization bills establish, continue, or modify agencies or programs. Appropriations measures subsequently provide funding for the agencies and programs authorized.

There are three types of appropriations measures. Regular appropriations bills provide most of the funding that is provided in all appropriations measures for a fiscal year and must be enacted by October 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. If regular bills are not enacted by the beginning of the new fiscal year, Congress adopts continuing resolutions to continue funding, generally until regular bills are enacted. Supplemental appropriations bills provide additional appropriations to become available during a fiscal year.