The Federal Budget Process

The Federal Budget Process

The President and Congress work on the budget for nearly the entire year. Below is the calendar of how the budget process is supposed to work. Often times, and this year is no exception, the budget process gets off course and the timeline will shift. It is helpful, however, to get an understanding of how the process flows


President signals budget and program priorities in State of the Union or inaugural address.

By First Monday in February

President submits budget to Congress following the procedure required by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974.  The President’s proposed budget is a starting point for congressional deliberations.  It estimates spending, revenue and borrowing levels based on input received from federal agencies.  The President’s proposed budget plays three important roles: 1) it outlines what the President believes overall fiscal policy should be; 2) it reflects the President’s priorities for federal programs – how much should be spent on defense, education, health….; 3) it indicates the spending and tax policy changes the President recommends.

February – September

The President’s proposed budget helps inform Congressional deliberations on the annual Budget Resolution, which establishes a level of total spending and revenues (taxes and fees) within which Congress will then control the process of appropriations as the year moves forward.  To craft the Budget Resolution, Congress interacts with federal agency representatives who explain and advocate the President’s proposed budget and then develops its Budget Resolution through the work of the House and Senate Budget Committees. Usually in the spring, House and Senate Budget Committees hold hearings on the Budget Resolution.  Based on committee testimony and deliberations, each committee “marks up” its version of the Budget Resolution.  Once the committees have completed their work, the Budget Resolution goes to the House and Senate floors for debate and vote.

Once House and Senate have each passed their version of the Budget Resolution, members are named to a Conference Committee which resolves differences between the House and Senate proposed budget resolutions.  Much of the exchange and compromise between conferees happens outside formal deliberations.  The Budget Resolution is supposed to be passed by April 15, but it frequently takes longer.  In some years, Congress does not pass a Budget Resolution, and therefore the previous year’s resolution remains in effect.

*Advocacy Opportunities – Help shape the debate by meeting with members of Congress and using   media advocacy to lift up your key issues and positions.  Provide forums to educate members of your    congregation and community on the impact of the federal budget proposal on the most vulnerable.    Highlight stories from your own community.

Once a Budget Resolution has been adopted, Congressional committees then prepare 13 Appropriations Bills, which specify how the money that has been allocated to each functional category will be distributed across the many programs within the category. 

There is another important stream of funding outside the budget itself: mandatory spending, which pays for entitlement programs that continue from year to year. An entitlement program is one where funding is available for all people who are eligible for the program. Examples of entitlement programs include Social Security, veterans' pensions, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, and the federal employees' retirement program. Congress does not have to appropriate mandatory spending each year as part of the budget.  Instead changes to spending in the mandatory category are made in Authorization Bills that may be written at any time during the year.

*Advocacy Opportunities - Contact and meet with members of the House and Senate Budget Committees.  When members of the Conference Committee are named, contact and meet with those members.

Continue to provide educational forums and mobilize your advocacy networks.

Work with your local media to cover the impact of federal budget decisions on your community

October 1

The new Fiscal Year begins.  This means that the Budget is intended to be passed by the end of       September.  In many years, however, Congress fails to complete its deliberations by that date.  If a Budget has not passed by September 30, Congress must pass Continuing Resolutions for each of the 13 Appropriations categories.  Eventually a new Budget must be approved, but this may again involve the appointment of a Conference Committee to resolve differences in the Senate and House versions.

*Advocacy Opportunities – You will still need to meet with members of your Congressional delegation and communicate with House and Senate Budget Committees until the Budget process has been completed.

Contact Info

Edith Rasell, Ph.D.
Minister for Economic Justice
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115