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What Is an Appropriations Bill?

The US Capitol Building, the seat of the US Congress.
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  • Written By: R. Anacan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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In the United States, an appropriations bill is a specific type of legislation that authorizes and provides the money required to fund the discretionary spending of the United States government. The funding of the United States government is provided for through thirteen separate appropriations bills, and these bills must be passed every year prior to the start of the fiscal year to prevent a shut-down of the functions and activities of the Federal Government. The appropriations process is one of the most important responsibilities of the Congress and the President and consumes a large percentage of the time and energy of the members of the government.

An appropriations bill provides for the funding of the discretionary spending of the Federal Government. Discretionary spending is spending that can change from year to year as the priorities of the government change. This is in contrast to non-discretionary spending, such as Social Security benefits, which is spending mandated by law.

The appropriations bill process generally begins in the beginning of the year after the President of the United States forwards his proposed budget to the Congress. The Congress then passes its own version of the budget, which may or may not mirror the President’s budget. Once the President sends his budget to Congress and Congress provides a budget resolution of its own, the real work and the difficult task of allocating the government’s resources begins.

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In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, different subcommittees begin the process of crafting an appropriations bill for their specific jurisdiction. For example, the Congress may allocate $1 billion US Dollars (USD) for spending by the Department of Defense. The individual subcommittee that is dedicated to defense spending then determines where to spend the $1 billion USD that is allocated to the Department of Defense. This scenario plays out in all of the subcommittees in both houses of Congress that are charged with drafting an appropriations bill.

Once each subcommittee has finished crafting its specific appropriations bill, the bill is forwarded to a conference of members of the House and Senate. The job of the conference committee is to work out differences between the appropriations bills passed by both Houses of Congress in an effort to create one version of each bill that will be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. This final version of each appropriations bill is then voted on by the members of each house. If the appropriations bill passes both houses of Congress, it is forwarded to the President for his signature and approval. If he signs the bill it becomes effective on 1 October, which is the start of the fiscal year for the Federal Government.

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