Citizen Action Kit: Appropriations Process

The Physicians Committee

Appropriations Process

Each year, Congress must pass 12 spending bills, called appropriations bills, which fund all federal agencies and programs for an entire year. The federal fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

Congress appropriates money for existing programs and government operations, but also for implementation of new laws (“authorization bills”).

The appropriations process provides another avenue for Congress to affect the outcome of laws because a law's effectiveness is limited by how much money can go towards administering it.

The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are responsible for drafting the annual appropriation bills, which provide about 40 percent of total federal spending. Legislative committees in both chambers of Congress control the rest.

There are three kinds of appropriation measures:

  • Regular appropriation bills provide most of the funding for appropriations measures in a fiscal year.

  • Continuing Resolutions allow a temporary funding extension for existing federal programs that are up for reauthorization but that Congress has failed to approve by the end of the fiscal year. Congress then has a limited amount of time to enact the bill before all funding to that program is ended.

  • Supplemental appropriations bills allow Members of Congress to designate additional money to a bill’s budget.  Supplemental bills have been used in recent years to fund military actions, as well as responses to emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill.