Why Appropriations Are Not A Budget Resolution

The continuing resolution [CR] enacted last week will keep Federal programs and activities running through early December, at which point Congress will have to decide how to fund the government further. Whatever the outcome, however, such legislation will not constitute the entire budget – although the two often are confused. Congress still has to pass a budget resolution if it is to reform entitlements, set limits on discretionary spending, or consider a tax reform bill under expedited procedures of reconciliation. The following discussion explains some of the key differences between appropriations bills and the budget resolution.

Appropriations

Appropriations bills provide the legal authority for the Federal Government to enter into a specified amount of financial obligations. One form of appropriation – such as last week’s CR – combines several or all of the 12 separate appropriations bills, and provides temporary spending authority generally at the prior fiscal year’s levels. Whether adopted separately, in an omnibus, or in a CR, however, such measures cover only annually appropriated, discretionary spending – which represents just one-third of the budget. Appropriations bills must be signed into law.

The Budget Resolution

Only a budget resolution addresses the entire Federal budget – mandatory and discretionary spending in addition to revenue and deficit/surplus projections. The budget resolution is traditionally the first step in the congressional budget cycle, providing a comprehensive blueprint for addressing the government’s fiscal challenges. As a concurrent resolution, it is a form of congressional rulemaking that does not require the President’s signature. It provides Congress with targets for the subsequent consideration of appropriations, authorizing bills, and tax measures. It also contains a series of budget enforcement provisions.

Reconciliation

In addition to setting spending and revenue limits, the budget resolution may drive major program reforms through reconciliation. Reconciliation directs authorizing committees to report legislation adjusting programs in their jurisdictions to meet specified spending and revenue targets. Passage of reconciliation legislation requires only a simple majority in the Senate. The Budget Committee-reported Fiscal Year 2018 Concurrent Resolution on the Budget (H. Con. Res. 71) instructs 11 authorizing committees to achieve a total of $203 billion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, and provides a mechanism for reforming Federal taxes.

 

Prepared by:

Mary Popadiuk, Senior Counsel

Printable PDF