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The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction

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Congress annually considers 11 or more appropriations measures, which provide funding for numerous activities, for example, national defense, education, homeland security, and crime. These measures also fund general government operations such as the administration of federal agencies. 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. These committees control only about 40% of total federal spending provided for a fiscal year. The House and Senate legislative committees control the rest.

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 of each year. If regular bills are not enacted by the deadline, Congress adopts continuing resolutions to continue funding generally until regular bills are enacted. Supplemental bills are considered later and provide additional appropriations.

Each year Congress considers a budget resolution that, in part, sets spending ceilings for the upcoming fiscal year. Both the House and Senate have established parliamentary rules that may be used to enforce certain spending ceilings associated with the annual budget resolution during congressional consideration of appropriations measures.

Congress has also established an authorization-appropriation process which provides for two separate types of measures — authorization measures and appropriation measures. These measures perform different functions and are to be considered in sequence. First, the authorization measure is considered and then the appropriation measure. Authorization measures are under the jurisdiction of the legislative committees, most congressional committees are legislative committees, such as the House Committee on Armed Services and the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. This process is enforced, in part, by House and Senate parliamentary rules.


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