Introduction to the Federal Budget Process

Introduction to the Federal Budget Process. Congressional Research Service. James V. Saturno. February 26, 2020

Under the U.S. Constitution, Congress exercises the “power of the purse.” This power is expressed through the application of several provisions. The power to lay and collect taxes and the power to borrow are among the enumerated powers of Congress under Article I, Section 8. Furthermore, Section 9 of Article I states that funds may be drawn from the Treasury only pursuant to appropriations made by law. The Constitution, however, does not prescribe how these legislative powers are to be exercised, nor does it expressly provide a specific role for the President with regard to budgetary matters. Instead, various statutes, congressional rules, practices, and precedents have been established over time to create a complex system in which multiple decisions and actions occur with varying degrees of coordination. As a consequence, there is no single “budget process” through which all budgetary decisions are made, and in any year there may be many budgetary measures necessary to establish or implement different aspects of federal fiscal policy. This report describes the development and operation of the framework for budgetary decisionmaking that occurs today and also includes appendices that provide a glossary of budget-process-related terms and a flowchart of congressional budget process actions.

[PDF format, 41 pages].

Public Trust and Law Enforcement — A Discussion for Policymakers

Public Trust and Law Enforcement — A Discussion for Policymakers. Congressional Research Service. Nathan James et al. December 13, 2018

Several high-profile incidents where the police have apparently used excessive force against citizens have generated interest in what role Congress could play in facilitating efforts to build trust between the police and the people they serve. This report provides a brief overview of the federal government’s role in police-community relations.

[PDF format, 27 pages].

Clearing the Air on the Debt Limit

Clearing the Air on the Debt Limit. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. D. Andrew Austin, Kenneth R. Thomas. November 2, 2017

The statutory debt limit, currently suspended through December 8, 2017, provides Congress a means of controlling federal borrowing. As the date when that suspension will lapse approaches, discussions about the role of the debt limit among the media, researchers, and Members of Congress promise to become more frequent. In recent discussions, misleading or less than fully accurate claims have, at times, surfaced. This report provides clarifications on five common debt limit contentions.

Some of those points in need of clarification relate to the congressional power of the purse, which stems from three closely related constitutional provisions that charge Congress with deciding how the federal government spends, taxes, and borrows.

[PDF format, 15 pages, 576.01 KB].

Congress and the Budget: 2016 Actions and Events

Congress and the Budget: 2016 Actions and Events. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Grant A. Driessen and Megan S. Lynch. October 17, 2016

The Constitution grants Congress the power of the purse, but does not dictate how Congress must fulfill this constitutional duty. Congress has, therefore, developed certain types of budgetary legislation, along with rules and practices that govern its content and consideration. This set of budgetary legislation, rules, and practices is often referred to as the congressional budget process.
There is no prescribed congressional budget process that must be strictly followed each year, and Congress does not always consider budgetary measures in a linear or predictable pattern. Such dissimilarity can be the result of countless factors, such as a lack of consensus, competing budgetary priorities, the economy, natural disasters, military engagements, and other circumstances creating complications, obstacles, and interruptions within the policymaking process.

[PDF format, 17 pages, 666.94 KB].

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Mary Beth D. Nikitin. September 1, 2016.

A ban on all nuclear tests is the oldest item on the nuclear arms control agenda. Three treaties that entered into force between 1963 and 1990 limit, but do not ban, such tests. In 1996, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Comprehensive Nuclear–Test–Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all nuclear explosions. In 1997, President Clinton sent the CTBT to the Senate, which rejected it in October 1999. In a speech in Prague in April 2009, President Obama said, “My administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.” However, while the Administration has indicated it wants to begin a CTBT “education” campaign with a goal of securing Senate advice and consent to ratification, it has not pressed for a vote on the treaty and there were no hearings on it in the 111th, 112th, or 113th Congresses. There will be at least one hearing in the 114th Congress—a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the CTBT planned for September 7, 2016.

[PDF format, 77 pages, 1.21 MB].

Climate Change: Frequently Asked Questions about the 2015 Paris Agreement

Climate Change: Frequently Asked Questions about the 2015 Paris Agreement. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Jane A. Leggett and Richard K. Lattan. September 1, 2016.

Experts broadly agree that stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere to avoid dangerous GHG–induced climate change could be accomplished only with concerted efforts by all large emitting nations. Toward this purpose, delegations of 195 nations adopted the Paris Agreement (PA) on December 12, 2015. The PA outlines goals and a structure for international cooperation to slow climate change and mitigate its impacts over decades to come. Heads of state and ministers from more than 175 governments signed the PA, a record for a single day. Signature generally indicates that a nation state intends to be bound by the agreement, and it initiates the process by which a prospective Party follows its domestic procedures to ratify, accept, approve, or accede to the agreement.

[PDF format, 32 pages, 924.54 KB].

Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy

Foreign Aid: An Introduction to U.S. Programs and Policy. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Curt Tarnoff and Marian L. Lawson. June 17, 2016.

Foreign assistance is a fundamental component of the international affairs budget and is viewed by many as an essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy. On the basis of national security, commercial, and humanitarian rationales, U.S. assistance flows through many federal agencies and supports myriad objectives, including promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, improving governance, expanding access to health care and education, promoting stability in conflictive regions, countering terrorism, promoting human rights, strengthening allies, and curbing illicit drug production and trafficking. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, foreign aid has increasingly been associated with national security policy. At the same time, foreign aid is seen by many Americans, and Members of Congress, as an expense that the United States cannot afford given current budget deficits.

[PDF format, 38 pages, 1.1 MB].

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. Barry J. McMillion. April 1, 2016.

The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance in American politics. Each appointment is of consequence because of the enormous judicial power the Supreme Court exercises as the highest appellate court in the federal judiciary. The procedure for appointing a Justice is provided for by the Constitution in only a few words. The “Appointments Clause” (Article II, Section 2, clause 2) states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court.” The process of appointing Justices has undergone changes over two centuries, but its most basic feature—the sharing of power between the President and Senate—has remained unchanged: To receive appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate.

[PDF format, 26 pages, 836.0 KB].

A Primer on Disaster and Emergency Appropriations

A Primer on Disaster and Emergency Appropriations. The Heritage Foundation. Justin Bogie. March 2, 2016.

Each year, Congress appropriates billions of dollars in discretionary funding for disaster relief and emergencies. Some of that funding is provided through base appropriations measures, but a much larger portion is provided through annual Budget Control Act (BCA) cap adjustments that increase discretionary spending by billions of dollars, or by supplemental appropriations bills that provide even greater amounts of funding that is not subject to spending caps or budgetary controls. The paper outlines the three classifications of disaster and emergency spending and discusses the importance of paying for these events within the normal annual appropriations except in the cases of true emergencies. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

[PDF format, 3 pages, 121.36 KB].

U.S. Family-Based Immigration Policy

U.S. Family-Based Immigration Policy. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress. William A. Kandel. February 17, 2016.

Family reunification is a key principle underlying U.S. immigration policy. It is embodied in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which specifies numerical limits for five family-based admission categories, as well as a per-country limit on total family-based admissions. The five categories include immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and four other family-based categories that vary according to individual characteristics such as the legal status of the petitioning U.S.-based relative, and the age, family relationship, and marital status of the prospective immigrant.

[PDF format, 35 pages, 932.2 KB].