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The “Regular Appropriations Ragtime Jam”

The “Regular Appropriations Ragtime Jam”

There has been a lot of talk recently in Washington about the appropriations process. And while it may not be as catchy as “I’m just a bill …” understanding the appropriations process is just as important and entertaining as other “Schoolhouse Rock” civics sessions.  So let’s dive in:

Appropriations has been used as a bargaining chip in the recent race for Speaker of the House and often cited as an example of Congressional dysfunction. Given that it has been a few decades since “regular order” in the Congressional appropriations process, a regular appropriations refresher seemed in order.

Question: What is a regular appropriations bill?

Answer: An appropriations bill is a piece of legislation that allocates federal funds to specific federal government departments, agencies, and programs. Under regular order, there are twelve standard bills that cover funding for the federal government. They each provide definite dollar amounts for specific purposes that can be spent over a limited period of time.

Question: Who is in charge of the regular appropriations process?

Answer: Broadly, Congress. This congressional power of the purse comes from the Constitution, which states that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” (Article 1, Clause 7). The House and the Senate have developed rules and practices for how to carry out this constitutional responsibility.

Specifically, the United States House Committee on Appropriations and the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations have jurisdiction over appropriations bills. And each of these committees has twelve subcommittees that correspond to the twelve appropriations bills (See chart).

Question: What is the regular appropriations process?

Answer: The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 lays out a timetable for the process. Ultimately, appropriations bills must be enacted by the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1. However, it is important to note none of these “due dates” are enforceable, which is why a regular appropriations process has not been followed since 1976.

  • By the first Monday in February, the White House must submit its budget to Congress.
  • Following this, agencies submit budget justification documents that specify the agency’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.
  • The House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees consider these justifications and hold hearings to get further answers from agency officials on the budgetary requests.
  • Each subcommittee drafts and then marks up the bill under its jurisdiction. Following an amendment process, the bill is voted on and forwarded to the full committee.
  • The full Appropriations committees in both the House and the Senate engage in the markup process with the reported bills. Following this, the committees vote to report the bill to their respective chambers for consideration.
  • The House and Senate have different floor procedures for these types of bills, but, broadly, following an amendment process, each chamber votes on final passage.
  • If the final House and Senate appropriations products have disagreements, there are three different legislative processes that can be used to resolve these differences.
    • First, one chamber takes up the measure passed by the other chamber and passes it without amendment.
    • Second, A formal conference committee is appointed to negotiate a compromise, which is then approved by both chambers.
    • Third, the House and Senate engage in an exchange of amendments, during which one chamber agrees to text and proposes it to the other chamber, which can choose to agree, reject, or further amend the text.
  • The final version of the appropriations bill is then sent to the President for signature or veto. Presidents have vetoed appropriations legislation 83 times. Twelve of these vetoes have been overridden. President Clinton holds the record for most appropriations vetoes at 14, which led to the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns.

This process is meant to be completed by June 30 according to the Congressional Budget Act timeline.

Question: Where are we in this process today?

Answer: Congress did not pass all 12 appropriations bills by October 1. To avoid a government shutdown, the House and Senate passed a Continuing Resolution on September 30 that provided funding for 47 additional days until November 17.

In the House, newly elected Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) ran on the promise of passing all 12 appropriations bills. The House still must pass eight remaining appropriations bills. During a recent meeting, Speaker Johnson brought up the idea of a second continuing resolution that would fund the government through the end of the year to provide more time for the appropriations process.

In the Senate, the Appropriations Committee passed all 12 bills out of committee, and on November 1, the full Senate passed the Military Construction-Veterans’ Affairs, Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development appropriations bills as part of a bipartisan appropriations package.

November 8th, 2023 by

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