Congress and the Budget: How Federal Spending Is Decided

Congress holds the power of the purse, meaning it has the authority to allocate funds and make decisions regarding federal spending.

Here’s an overview of how Congress determines federal spending through the budgetary process:

Budgetary Process:

  1. Presidential Budget Proposal:
    • The process typically begins with the President submitting a budget proposal to Congress. This proposal outlines the administration’s spending priorities, revenue projections, and proposed allocations for various federal agencies and programs.
  2. Congressional Budget Resolution:
    • Congress develops its own budget resolution, guided by the President’s proposal but ultimately crafted and passed by Congress. This resolution sets overall spending levels, revenue targets, and deficit/surplus goals for the fiscal year.
  3. Appropriations Process:
    • Based on the budget resolution, Congress goes through the appropriations process. This involves individual appropriation bills crafted by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, allocating funds to specific government agencies, departments, and programs.
  4. Passage of Appropriations Bills:
    • The House and Senate debate and pass the appropriations bills. Once both chambers pass their respective versions, they reconcile any differences in conference committees before final passage.
  5. Continuing Resolutions and Omnibus Bills:
    • If Congress fails to pass individual appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year (October 1), it can pass continuing resolutions to fund the government temporarily. Omnibus bills combine multiple appropriations bills into one for efficiency.

Committees and Oversight:

  1. Role of Appropriations Committees:
    • The House and Senate Appropriations Committees oversee the allocation of funds, determine priorities, and review agency budgets to ensure they align with Congress’s spending goals.
  2. Budget Oversight:
    • Various committees in Congress conduct oversight of federal agencies’ spending to ensure accountability, efficiency, and compliance with allocated funds.

Key Factors Influencing Budget Decisions:

  1. Revenue Sources:
    • Congress also considers revenue sources, such as taxes and other sources of income, when making spending decisions.
  2. Policy Priorities:
    • Priorities of members, political parties, and public demands influence funding decisions for programs related to defense, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and more.


Congress determines federal spending through a comprehensive budgetary process involving budget resolutions, appropriations bills, oversight committees, and considerations of revenue sources and policy priorities.

This process allows Congress to allocate funds, oversee spending, and ensure that federal resources are used in alignment with national priorities and objectives.

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