Congress is distinguished from nearly every other legislature in the world by the control it exercises over fashioning the government's budgetary policies. This power, referred to as "the power of the purse," ensures Congress' primary role in setting revenue and borrowing policies for the federal government and in determining how these resources are spent.
The congressional power of the purse derives from several key provisions in the Constitution.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 (Power to tax and spend) declares in part that Congress shall have the power to raise (that is, "to lay and collect") revenues of various types, including taxes and duties, among other things.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 2 (Borrowing power) declares that the power to borrow funds "on the credit of the United States" belongs to Congress. In addition to its powers regarding revenues and borrowing, Congress exerts control over the expenditure of funds.
Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 declares in part that funds can be withdrawn from the Treasury only pursuant to laws that make appropriations.
Under the Constitution, revenue measures must originate in the House of Representatives. Beyond this requirement, however, the Constitution does not prescribe how the House and Senate should organize themselves, or the procedures they should use, to conduct budgeting. Over the years, however, both chambers have developed an extensive set of rules (some set forth in statute) and precedents that lay out complicated, multiple processes for making budgetary decisions. The House and Senate have also created an intricate committee system to support these processes.
As American society has grown and become ever more complex, and as the role of the federal government in the national economy has steadily expanded, Congress also has increasingly shared power over budgetary matters with the president and the executive branch. It has refashioned the president's role in budgeting by requiring him to submit to Congress each year a budget for the entire federal government and giving him responsibilities for monitoring agencies' implementation of spending and revenue laws. Accordingly, the president also exercises considerable influence over key budget decisions.
For complete Table of Contents, see
1. "Introduction to the Federal Budget Process," (38-page PDF)
2. "The Executive Budget Process: An Overview," CRS Report R42633, July 27, 2012
3. "The Executive Budget Process Timetable," (8-page PDF)
4. "The Congressional Budget Process: A Brief Overview," CRS Report RS20095, August 22, 2011
5. "Budget Resolution Enforcement," CRS Report 98-815, August 12, 2008
6. "Deeming Resolutions: Budget Enforcement in the Absence of a Budget Resolution," CRS Report R44296, June 26, 2017
7. "Legislating in Congress: Federal Budget Process," Contributing Author Bill Heniff Jr., with updates by Robert Keith and Megan Lynch
8. "The Budget Reconciliation Process: Stages of Consideration," CRS Report R44058, January 4, 2017
9. "The Budget Reconciliation Process: The Senate's 'Byrd Rule'," (44-page PDF)
10. "The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction," (28-page PDF)
11. "Allocations and Subdivisions in the Congressional Budget Process," CRS Report RS20144, November 29, 2010
12. "Omnibus Appropriations Acts: Overview of Recent Practices," CRS Report RL32473, January 14, 2016
13. "Appropriations Report Language: Overview of Development, Components, and Issues for Congress," CRS Report R44124 July 28, 2015
14. "Overview of the Authorization-Appropriations Process," (5-page PDF)
15. "Points of Order in the Congressional Budget Process," (21-page PDF)
16. "The Budget Control Act: Frequently Asked Questions," CRS Report R44874, February 23, 2018
17. "Budget 'Sequestration' and Selected Program Exemptions and Special Rules," (35-page PDF)
18. "Continuing Resolutions: Overview of Components and Recent Practices," CRS Report R42647, January 14, 2016
19. Additional Resources