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Issue Brief #4218 on Budget and Spending

May 13, 2014

Spending Season Is Back: How Congress Is Planning to Dish Out Your Tax Dollars in 2015

By

After the past two years of budgetary dysfunction, during which Congress relied on temporary agreements to fund the government, the appropriations committees are back in session with the charge to present all 12 spending bills for fiscal year (FY) 2015.[1] These bills will divide the $1.014 trillion designated for discretionary spending in FY 2015 amongst the federal government’s myriad agencies and programs.[2]

Indeed, appropriators have an arduous journey ahead: Congress has not successfully passed all 12 spending bills on time since 1997.[3] But even if Congress is unable to pass all 12 bills, just a partial return to the regular budget process will allow for timely debate regarding the nation’s financial situation.

However, the normal budget process is still complex and rather opaque. Heritage fellow Patrick Louis Knudsen notes that budgeting has historically been a powerful tool for the people’s representatives to best address the immediate concerns of their constituents and control the growth of government. He points to a statement by James Madison: “This power of the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure.” To be an effective tool for the people, the opaque and complicated budget process should strive for public accessibility rather than continue as a series of crisis-control measures produced behind closed doors in Washington.[4]

While taxpayers write the federal government a check each year, it is difficult to follow where your money is actually spent. In order to create more accountability and visibility in the appropriations process, Heritage will be tracking the progress of all 12 spending bills and keeping you updated in an easy-to-read appropriations chart. This tracker will allow Americans to easily compare the differences between the House, Senate, and President’s proposals and will show you which departments and programs are slated to receive the most funds in 2015.[5]

—Michael Sargent is a Research Assistant in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

Show references in this report

[1] See Romina Boccia and Michael Sargent, “The Federal Budget in 2013: Dysfunction Revisited,” Heritage Foundation Issue Brief No. 4189, April 1, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/the-federal-budget-in-2013-dysfunction-revisited.  

[2] Discretionary spending makes up one-third of federal spending in any given fiscal year. Two-thirds of spending goes toward mandatory programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and interest on the debt.

[3] Jessica Tollestrup, “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction,” Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, February 23, 2012, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42388.pdf (accessed April 28, 2014).

[4] For an analysis of possible budget process reforms, see Patrick Louis Knudsen, “An Analysis of Selected Budget Process Reforms,” Heritage Foundation Center for Policy Innovation Discussion Paper No. 16, April 11, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/an-analysis-of-selected-budget-process-reforms.  

[5] For further reading on the budget and appropriations process, see Boccia and Sargent, “The Federal Budget in 2013”; The Heritage Foundation, “President Obama’s 2015 Budget: How Government Expansion Will Limit Opportunity, Slow Economic Growth, and Erode Financial and National Security,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2903, April 14, 2014, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/president-obamas-2015-budget-how-government-expansion-will-limit-opportunity-slow-economic-growth-and-erode-financial-and-national-security; and Marguerite Bowling, “The $1 Trillion Omnibus Spending Bill Is Out: Now Find Out What’s In It,” The Heritage Foundation, The Foundry, January 14, 2014, http://blog.heritage.org/2014/01/14/1-trillion-omnibus-now-find-whats/.  

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