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The House Appropriations Committee is a committee set up within the United States Congress whose main purpose is allocated funds. Much of the funding for defense, social programs, and even the cost of operating the government itself must first be endorsed by the committee. It is estimated that the House Appropriations Committee controls about 40% of all federal spending. The number of congressional representatives who serve on the committee varies, but during 2010, the committee consisted of 60 members.
The Senate of the United States has an appropriation committee that operates in conjunction with the House Appropriations Committee. It is referred to as the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Generally, the two committees operate together and make decisions together. Both appropriation committees have a dozen subcommittees that fall under their power. Subcommittees are required to submit funding requests by the first of October, which is considered the start of the congressional fiscal year.
The purpose of the subcommittees is to determine funding for various projects, however, in many cases, centralized control is held by the senior appropriation committees of both the House and Senate. Subcommittees must submit their budgets yearly to continue to receive funds. Some of the committees that are answerable to the House Appropriations Committee include those devoted to defense, agriculture, and homeland security. Other important subcommittees involve transportation, rural development, and education.
Another important power held by this committee is the power to set spending limits on individual projects. In addition, it has the power to raise spending limits at any time. This is especially important during times of national emergency, when the need to act quickly could have life or death consequences. If necessary, the two appropriations committees can act alone, which streamlines the process.
Congressional representatives who serve on the House Appropriations Committee and the various subcommittees are typically appointed by the speaker of the House. Most members serving on the committee are not allowed to serve on any other committees, though some exceptions apply. Gaining a seat on an appropriations committee is considered a “plum” appointment, because it puts the representative in the unique position of helping to channel funds to his or her home district.
In 1865, the United States Congress created this committee to help manage the huge increase in spending that resulted from the Civil War. Prior to its creation, budgetary responsibility in the United States government was the sole responsibility of another committee called the Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Committee became a secondary branch of the House Appropriations Committee.