America Forward: Federal budget and appropriations primer

The process for funding federal programs is complex. This five part blog series will provide a brief history and overview of the federal budget and appropriations process and will explain how America Forward’s education, workforce development, and Pay for Success and evidence-based policy priorities fit into this process.

The following post was written by Jessica Crawford, Director of Strategic Partnerships at America Forward and Nicole Truhe, Director of Government Affairs at America Forward.

The United States Constitution gives Congress key fiscal powers, also known as “the power of the purse.” The Constitution does not provide the President with a specific role in the management of federal funding and also does not explicitly state how these legislative powers should be exercised.

As a result, the budget and appropriations process has evolved over time and Congress has passed key laws that have shaped the budget and appropriations process and formed three federal agencies – the Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office, and the Congressional Budget Office – that provide oversight and research to help craft the federal budget. Should we add a reference to the President’s release of a budget in February following SOTU though as an integral part of the process?

This blog post provides a brief overview of the federal budget and appropriations process. The subsequent posts in this blog series will provide more detailed insight into how America Forward’s funding priorities fit into the federal budget and appropriations process.

The Basics

Federal spending falls into two categories – mandatory and discretionary funding. Mandatory funding is spending on entitlement programs that are required by law and continue from year to year, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Mandatory funding accounts for the majority of federal spending (about 60%).
The other category of spending is discretionary spending. This funding must be approved each year through the appropriations process. Nearly all of the federal funding that helps to advance the work of America Forward and its Coalition organizations comes through discretionary programs.

The funding process takes place annually and begins with the submission of the President’s annual budget request to Congress.

The President’s Budget

The annual budget and appropriations cycle kicks off with the President’s submission of an annual budget proposal to Congress. According to Title III of the Congressional Budget Act, the President’s budget is to be submitted to Congress on or before the first Monday in February. This proposal includes the President’s recommendations for spending levels for various federal programs and agencies. The Administration also uses the President’s Budget proposal to introduce new policies and programs they would like to see funded.

It is important to note that the President’s Budget proposal is a request and holds no obligatory authority over Congress. After the President submits his proposal, the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees hold hearings on sections of the budget under their jurisdiction to explore the Administrative agencies justifications for their funding requests.

The President’s Fiscal Year (FY) 17 Budget Request may be viewed here.

The Congressional budget and appropriations process

Approximately six weeks after the President submits his Budget request, Congress responds with the creation of a concurrent congressional budget resolution, which is an agreement between the House and Senate that establishes overall budgetary and fiscal policy to be carried our through the appropriations process.

The budget resolution is not sent to the President and does not become law. It is a guide for Congress as it considers budget-related bills such as appropriations and tax legislation.

April 15th is the target date for congressional adoption of the budget resolution, however there is no penalty if the resolution is not completed by April 15th or at all, and has been rare in recent Congressional sessions. Instead, each chamber of Congress will pass its own resolution or pass a simple resolution that sets the total level of discretionary funding for the next fiscal year.

Once the Budget Committee hearings on the President’s budget request have been completed and the level of funding has been set for the next fiscal year, the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees begin consideration of the bill under their jurisdiction and report them to their respective full committees.
Once the House and Senate Appropriations Committees report an appropriations bill to the full House or Senate, the bill is available for consideration by the full chamber.

All appropriations bills are supposed to be passed by both chambers by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1st. Without the provision of funding, the Federal government would face a full shutdown.

Over the past several years, very few of the appropriations bills were approved by following the process outlined above, referred to as “regular order.” Instead, Congress has passed a series of Continuing Resolutions (CRs), which are short-term spending bills that typically maintain funding levels at the previous year’s levels. Additionally, as the fiscal year ends, leadership in both chambers often negotiate on passing all the bills together in one combined package, known as an Omnibus Appropriations bill.

Regardless of how the bills advance, the final step in the funding process is having the President sign the bill or bills into Law.

What’s the latest news?

The House and Senate have begun work on the FY 2017 budget and appropriations process. Click on the links below for the latest news on the process thus far.

The importance of the federal budget and appropriations process

The budget and appropriations process is extremely important in ensuring the individual programs that impact the lives of those our network organizations serve receive funding. In our next post, we will explore America Forward’s FY17 funding priorities and ways we can work collectively to advance our funding priorities. Stay tuned!

Previous Article America Forward Applauds Congressional Passage of the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act March 30, 2016 < Next Article The Federal Budget and appropriations process: America Forward Funding Priorities March 30, 2016 >

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