How does Congress exercise its power of the purse?

Congress exercises its power of the purse through a series of constitutional and legislative mechanisms that grant it authority over government spending and financial matters.

The power of the purse is a fundamental tool for Congress to control and influence the policies and priorities of the federal government.

Here’s how Congress exercises its power of the purse:

1. Constitutional Authority:

  1. Article I, Section 9:
    • The U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 9, grants Congress the power of the purse. This provision stipulates that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”
  2. Article I, Section 8:
    • Congress has the authority to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, as well as to borrow money on the credit of the United States. This authority gives Congress control over revenue generation.

2. Budget Process:

  1. President’s Budget Proposal:
    • The President submits a detailed budget proposal to Congress, outlining the administration’s spending priorities, revenue projections, and policy goals for the upcoming fiscal year.
  2. Budget Resolution:
    • The House and Senate Budget Committees develop a budget resolution, setting overall spending and revenue targets. While the budget resolution does not have the force of law, it provides a framework for subsequent appropriations and revenue legislation.
  3. Appropriations Process:
    • Congress, through the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, determines how federal funds will be allocated among various government agencies and programs. This involves the passage of 12 appropriations bills, each corresponding to different areas of government spending.
  4. Authorization and Appropriation:
    • Authorization bills establish or continue federal programs, while appropriations bills provide the actual funding. Both chambers must pass these bills for funds to be allocated.
  5. Continuing Resolutions:
    • If Congress fails to pass all appropriations bills by the end of the fiscal year (September 30), it may pass a continuing resolution to temporarily fund the government at existing levels.

3. Power to Tax and Borrow:

  1. Taxing Authority:
    • Congress has the authority to levy and collect taxes, determining the revenue streams available to the federal government.
  2. Borrowing Authority:
    • Congress controls the ability of the federal government to borrow money. It must authorize any increases in the debt limit, allowing the government to meet its financial obligations.

4. Oversight and Accountability:

  1. Committee Oversight:
    • Congressional committees, particularly the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, conduct oversight to ensure that agencies are using funds as intended and that programs are effective.
  2. Audits and Investigations:
    • Congress may conduct audits, investigations, and hearings to assess the efficiency, effectiveness, and integrity of federal programs and agencies.

5. Impeachment:

  1. Power of Impeachment:
    • The Constitution grants Congress the power of impeachment, allowing the House of Representatives to charge the President, Vice President, or other civil officers with “high crimes and misdemeanors.” While not exclusively a budgetary tool, impeachment is a powerful check on executive authority.

6. Debt Ceiling:

  1. Legislation to Raise Debt Ceiling:
    • Congress must pass legislation to raise or suspend the debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow funds to meet its obligations. Failure to address the debt ceiling could lead to default.


The power of the purse is a crucial tool that allows Congress to control government spending, allocate funds based on policy priorities, and hold the executive branch accountable for the use of public funds.

Through the budget process, taxation, borrowing authority, and oversight mechanisms, Congress exercises its constitutional authority over financial matters.