Background and Process

Every year, Congress is required to pass 12 spending bills that fund the various Federal agencies and the programs they oversee.

There are two categories of Federal funding; discretionary and mandatory. Discretionary funding is appropriated by Congress each year, while mandatory funding is guaranteed by legislation for a specific purpose and is not subject to annual appropriations. Most federal early education programs are funded out of discretionary money — with one exception. Funding for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) comes from a combination of discretionary and mandatory funding. Discretionary funding levels for child care and early education programs are approved annually in the Labor, Health and Human Services (HHS), and Education Appropriations bill — which is one of 12 federal spending bills.

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The budget process begins when the President submits his budget, which is typically in February. Both the House and Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees then hold hearings on the President’s budget proposal. In the spring, generally by April 15, Congress approves a budget resolution, which sets broad categories of spending for Committees to follow. Based on the numbers agreed to in the budget resolution, funds are divided among the 12 Appropriation Subcommittees and its their responsibility to divide the allocation it receives among the many federal programs in its jurisdiction.

The Subcommittees then write a bill which include spending proposals for various government programs for the following year, then vote on it. Once the Full Appropriations Committee considers and approves the measure, the bill proceeds to the House/Senate floor for final consideration, which usually includes consideration of many amendments that propose to either cut or restore funding to certain programs before passage.

Once the House and Senate complete their versions of a spending bill, they meet to reconcile differences between both versions and reach an agreement, then write a final bill that can pass both chambers and be sent to the President.

Technically, Congress is supposed to complete all 12 spending bills by October 1st, which marks the beginning of the next Federal fiscal year. However, Congressional leadership rarely resolves all differences on spending by then and instead passes a “continuing resolution” which keeps the government running while members try to finalize a bill.

Once a spending bill is presented to the President, he/she has three options:

  • Sign it into law
  • Veto the bill
  • Choose not to take any action

If the President vetoes the legislation, then it is returned to Congress where they can either accept the veto and try to compromise with the White House through a new bill, or they can try to override the veto which would require two-thirds of both the House and the Senate. Additionally, if the President decides not to act on a bill and Congress is in session, it becomes law without his/her signature after 10 days. However, if Congress adjourns before the expiration of the 10 day period, then the President’s inaction is known as a “pocket veto” which Congress cannot override.

Budget and Appropriations Timetable

  • Early February: President Submits Budget to Congress
  • April 15: Deadline for completion of the budget resolution
  • May – July: House consideration of Appropriations bills begins
  • June 30: Target date for House completion of Appropriation bills
  • June – October: Senate consideration of Appropriations bills
  • October 1: New fiscal year begins
  • Post-October 1: Continuing Resolution enacted if necessary – Reconciliation action complete

To learn more about the status of the FY 2016 budget, click here.

To view related Webinars on the budget and appropriations process, click on the title below:

Federal Budget 101: Budgets, Deficits, Sequestration and Shutdowns

CCDBG Moving Forward: Funding, appropriations, timelines for implementation

CCAoA’s 2015 Year in Review

CCAoA-Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Webinar Slides (February 18, 2016)

CCAoA-Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Webinar Audio (February 18, 2016)

CCAoA-First Focus Webinar Slides (August 4, 2016)

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