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Budget and Appropriations

Budgets and Appropriations - Federal


Federal Budget Process
Researching Budgets and Appropriations
Further Reading


Under the U.S. Constitution, "no money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."

The Budget of the United States is the President’s proposed spending levels for the next fiscal year. 

Appropriation Bills are Congress’ response to the President’s proposal.  The President submits to Congress a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and Congress after committee hearings and debate generates a series of appropriation bills to allocate funding to the various government agencies and programs.  The President must approve these bills in order to fund the Federal Government for the fiscal year. 

In the United States, funding the federal government begins with the president’s budget and ends with signed appropriation bills. The budgeting process for the most part begins and ends with the Executive branch.

The entire process is somewhat convoluted. 


Federal Budget Process

The basic process goes through the following steps.  The Executive Branch develops a proposed budget that it submits to the Legislative Branch which in turn draws up the appropriation bills to fund the government for the next fiscal cycle.   The Executive Branch in turn then either signs the appropriation bill and funds that portion of the government or rejects it returning it the Legislature for further consideration.  This cycle continues until the government is fully funded.  If no agreement is reached by the end of the fiscal year, the Legislature must enact temporary funding measures or risk government shutdown.

While the Constitution grants Congress the power to fund the Federal Government and its programs from the revenues collected, it did not specify the exact budgeting process Congress is to follow.  Over time the following process has evolved. 

  • Step 1:  Budget Requests
    The Office of Budget and Management (OBM) provides guidelines to federal agencies for developing their budget requests for the coming fiscal year.  The OBM reviews the agencies' funding requests and after feedback from the agencies creates a draft of the budget.
  • Step 2:  Final Budget
    The OBM sends to the President the final budget, which includes information on the condition of the Treasury for the last completed fiscal year and the estimated condition at the end of the current fiscal year.  The budget also may include other budgetary publications that have been issued during the fiscal year, and other related and supporting documents pertaining to the budget.
  • Step 3:  Submits Budget
    In February, the President submits his budget to Congress.  The President’s Budget is just a proposal detailing how he would like to divvy up federal revenue for the next fiscal year.  The Federal fiscal year runs October through September.
  • Step 4:  Create and Pass Budget Resolutions
    The House and Senate Committees on the Budget take the President’s Budget and create budget resolutions.  These resolutions set spending levels for federal agencies, etc.  After each passes their versions of the budget resolutions, a joint committee irons out any differences between the two versions and the revised budget resolution is sent to Congress to be voted on.
  • Step 5:  Create Appropriations Bills
    Working within the spending limits set in the budget resolutions, the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees determine the precise level of funding for the coming fiscal year.  The resulting bill is voted and passed in the subcommittee, then the full Appropriations Committee, and then to full House or Senate to be voted on.
  • Step 6:  Vote on Appropriations Bills
    The full House and Senate vote on their own appropriations bills from their respective Appropriations Committee.  After passing their versions, if there are any differences, a conference committee is appointed to iron them out and the revised bill is sent back to the House and Senate to be voted on.  If passed, it is sent to the President.
  • Step 7:  Signs Each Appropriations Bill and the Budget Becomes Law
    Only after the President signs the Appropriations Bill does it become law.  When all the Appropriations Bills are signed, the budgeting process for the year is complete, and the federal government is funded for the next fiscal year.

Steps 4 through 7 are reiterative, as Congress and the President work out their differing spending goals with the end result of a fully funded government.  If no agreement can be reached by the end of the federal fiscal year in October, Congress must pass temporary funding measures until an agreement can be reached or risk the shutdown of the Federal Government.  In recent years relations between the executive branch and the legislative branches have become increasingly adversarial, and the federal government has shut down while the budgeting differences were worked out. 

The federal government unlike many others can and does run a deficit budget.  The U.S. Government can spend more than it earns in the form of taxes, etc., and has for some time.  


Researching Budgets and Appropriations

Researching federal funding is a matter of locating the appropriate documents, reports, bills, newspaper articles, etc. -- many of which are available online.

Use the following to help locate Federal budget and/or appropriations information:


Further Reading

Background:  The Numbers.  (Tax Policy Center)  General information on revenue streams for the Federal Government.

The Budget. (U.S. House of Representatives. Committee on the Budget)

Budget Concepts and Budget Process.”  Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of Management and Budget.  Analytical Perspectives:  Budget of the U.S. Government.  D.C.:  U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013, p. 115-139. 

Budget Process: Federal Budget 101. (National Priorities Project)

Capital Budgeting.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Budget Office, May 2008

A Citizen’s Guide to the Federal Budget. (U.S. Executive Office of the President)

The Congressional Appropriations Process:  An Introduction.  Sandy Streeter.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, Updated February 22, 2007.

The Congressional Appropriations Process:  An Introduction.  Jessica Tollestrup and James V. Saturno.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, November 14, 2014. 

The Congressional Appropriations Process:  An Introduction James V. Saturno, Bill Heniff Jr., and Megan S. Lynch.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2016. 

The Congressional Budget Process:  A Brief Overview.  James V. Saturno.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, updated January 28, 2004.  

The Executive Budget Process Timetable.  Michelle D. Christensen.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, December 5, 2012. 

The Federal Budget Process 101. (The American Association for the Advancement of Science - AAAS, Matt Hourihan) 

How Congress Works:  The Budget Process. (United States Senate) 

Introduction to the Federal Budget Process.  Bill Haniff Jr., Megan Suzanne Lynch, and Jessica Tollestrup.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2012. 

Party Control and Budget Estimates:  A Study of Politics in the Federal Budget Process.”  Lara Palanjian.  Berkeley Undergraduate Journal.  (University of California. eScholarship)  

Policy Basics:  Introduction to the Federal Budget Process. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)   

Public Budgeting. (enotes)

Role of the Legislature in Budget Processes.  Ian Lienert.  Washington, D.C.:  International Monetary Fund, Fiscal Affairs Department, April 2010.

U.S. Budget and Government Spending: Introduction to U.S. Budget Process. (University of California. Berkeley Library)

U.S. Government Documents Subject Guides & Internet Resources, U.S. Federal Guides:  The Budget Process. (Columbia University Libraries. Information Services)