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Committees and Caucuses

The House Committee on Appropriations

The United States House Committee on Appropriations is a committee of the United States House of Representatives responsible for passing appropriation bills along with its Senate counterpart. The bills passed by the Appropriations Committee regulate expenditures of money by the government of the United States. As such, it is one of the most powerful of the committees, and its members are seen as influential. They make the key decisions about the work of their committees: when their committees meet, which bills they will consider, and for how long.

The Appropriations committee is widely recognized by political scientists as one of the "power committees," since it holds the power of the purse. It is one of the exclusive committees of the House, meaning its members typically sit on no other committee. Much of the power of the committee comes from the inherent utility of controlling spending. Its subcommittee chairmen are often called "Cardinals" because of the power they wield over the budget.

Role of the Committee 

The constitutional basis for the Appropriations Committee comes from Article one, Section nine, Clause seven of the U.S. Constitution, which says:

“No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”

This clearly delegated the power of appropriating money to Congress, but was vague beyond that. Originally, the power of appropriating was taken by the Committee on Ways and Means, but the United States Civil War placed a large burden on the Congress, and at the end of that conflict, a reorganization occurred.

The Committee was created on December 11, 1865, when the House separated the tasks of the Committee on Ways and Means into three parts. The passage of legislation affecting taxes remained with Ways and Means. The power to regulate banking was transferred to the Committee on Banking and Commerce. The power to appropriate money - to control the federal purse strings - was given to the newly created Appropriations Committee. At the time of creation, the membership of the committee stood at nine; it currently has 53 members. The power of the committee has only grown since its founding. 

The root of the Committee's power is its ability to disburse funds, and thus as the federal budget has risen, so has the power of the Appropriations Committee. The first budget of the U.S., in 1789, was for $639,000 - a hefty sum for the time, but a much smaller amount relative to the economy than the federal budget would later become. By the time the Appropriations committee was founded, the Civil War and inflation had raised expenditures to roughly $1.3 billion, increasing the clout of the Committee.

The committee tends to be less partisan than other committees or the House overall. While the minority party will offer amendments during committee consideration, appropriations bills often get significant bipartisan support, both in committee and on the House Floor. 

The Budget Process

By the early 1970s new forces were at work calling for changes in the way in which Congress handled the budget and appropriations process. 

One of the most compelling of these forces, although it was largely a temporary problem, was due to the "impoundment" of funds in fiscal year 1974 by the President. This was, in effect, a line item veto of funds for programs that were initiated or increased by the Congress. Many Members of Congress and certain special interest groups were outraged and extremely frustrated by the impoundments. Numerous court suits on various impoundments had been filed and were in the process of being heard.

A more serious reason for budget reform was due to the widely held belief that the budget was out of control. Deficits were mounting; so-called "uncontrollable" spending was climbing; and "back door" spending, i.e. spending provided other than through the Appropriations Committee, was increasing. It was also becoming clear that there was little, if any coordination between raising and spending revenues. 

Additionally, there was a feeling among some Members of Congress that there needed to be other or additional ways to change the priorities of Federal spending. Because of these and other concerns, formal work was begun on improving the congressional budget process through the establishment of the Joint Study Committee on Budget Control. 

The work of this Committee, the House Rules Committee, the Senate Committee on Government Operations, and the Senate Rules Committee eventually resulted in the adoption of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.


Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration

The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Credit Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration. 

Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies

The Subcommittee has jurisdiction over military construction and housing programs within the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as other agencies.