The Federal Budget

The federal budget process is similar to the regular legislative process, but it is also different in some very important ways. First, because the Constitution requires that any bill raising revenue must originate in the House of Representatives, the House has traditionally taken the lead in the budget process.

Another distinctive feature of the budget process is that the President's role is more formalized and, therefore, significant. The Congress, by statute, has required the President to submit a budget to the Congress each year. By doing so, the President establishes the starting point and the framework of the annual budget debate. (Photo on Right: Senate Appropriations Committee Room. Source: United States Senate.)

The final significant difference between the budget process and the normal legislative process is that there are three distinct stages of federal budget making. First, the Congress passes a Budget which provides the framework for overall federal government taxation and spending for the upcoming year. Then, before any money can be officially appropriated or set aside for a given program or purpose, that program or purpose must be authorized. When a federal program is "authorized" it is legally established, extended or modified. At the same time, procedures for implementing the program and spending money on it are outlined, usually in detail. According to House and Senate rules, only after a program is authorized can money be appropriated for use on that program. The amount of money authorized for a program is generally less than the actual amount appropriated for it.

Facts & Figures

Federal Budget Quick Facts
A Citizen's Guide to the U.S. Budget Office of Management & Budget

Historical Documents

Federalist Papers
No. 12 - The Utility of the Union In Respect to Revenue
No. 30, No. 31, No. 32, No. 33, No. 34, No. 35 and No. 36 - Concerning the General Power of Taxation

AntiFederalist Papers
No. 11 - Unrestricted Power Over Commerce Should Not Be Given the National Government No. 12 - How will the New Government Raise Money?
No. 13 - The Expense of the New Government
No. 30-31 - A Virginia Antifederalist on the Issue of Taxation
No. 32 and No. 33 - Federal Taxation and the Doctrine of Implied Powers
No. 34 - The Problem of Concurrent Taxation
No. 35 - Federal Taxing Power Must Be Restrained
No. 36 - Representation and Internal Taxation

Reasearch and Study Helps

What is a Continuing Resolution?
"Where the Money Comes From and Where it Goes" by the Office of Management & Budget

Think About It

What are the most significant obstacles to reducing or eliminating the debt?
What could you do, as an individual citizen, to influence the budget process?
Why do you think the Congress must authorize programs before appropriating money for them?
Why might the national debt be considered a "generational" problem?

Applying What You've Learned

Visit the House Budget and Appropriations Committees and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees. Determine the following:

  • What is the status of the federal budget for the upcoming year?
  • Has a Budget Resolution been passed?
  • What is the status of the 13 Appropriations Bills? (Check the Library of Congress Appropriations Update site.)
  • Is there a projected surplus or deficit for the next budget year? How much?

Budget News, Editorials & Advocacy

The Federal Budget on the Web

News about the Federal Budget

Books about the Federal Budget