Federal Budget Process


The process of federal budgeting in the United States refers to the structure applied by the president and the Congress to create a comprehensive budget for a particular fiscal year (Schick, A., 2008). This paper will attempt to describe the process, and how politics acts as a significant variant; i.e., the power of political parties in regards to the executive and Congress, and the impact it has on the economy and individual Americans in general. 

The following outlined steps are involved in budget formulation. First, the executive through the president hands over a request to the Congress, which then approves resolutions through house and senate committees. The appropriation committees in both houses then scrutinize the amount allocated to the various agencies and projects before the matters are debated on, and differences are resolved. The fifth and final step involves the signing of all appropriation bills by the President, which immediately become law. 

Politics play a significant role in the process. To briefly summarize the method described above, the appropriations bill has to pass through the House of Representatives, then to the Senate and finally, the buck stops with the president. If the latter does not sign the bill, it is rolled back to Congress for debate, and only two-thirds of the total vote is required to overrule the president’s refusal (Schick, A., 2008). The process would be less complicated if the same party controlled both the executive and Congress. This is because there are minimal chances of the president rejecting the bill after it has been finalized, and secondly, the two houses are less likely to oppose the executive’s budget request (Garrett, E., 1998), through the president. In case of any disagreement, the two houses will try to reconcile or compromise for the sake of the party and undoubtedly due to influence from the white house. Therefore, there are fewer chances of a government shutdown, which is discussed in the following paragraph.

The second scenario is if the Congress and the executive fall under different parties. In which case, either the executive belongs to the Republican Party while the Congress is controlled by the Democrats and vice versa. This is what gives the process its tedious nature, and hence, the likelihood of a shutdown, which, in the simplest definition, refers to shutting down of federal agencies and operations due to lack of funding. A closure can occur under either of the two circumstances; if the president does not sign the bills by due date, or if the Congress fails to finalize by the same (Garrett, E., 1998). Again, under this scenario, there will be huge discrepancies between either of the two houses or the executive belonging to different parties, due to vested interests and party priorities. A good example is the government shutdown of 2013, which lasted for 16 days and caused more than 800, 000 workers to be laid off (Young, K. G., 2014) and approximately over a million to report to work with no surety of pay. In the preceding years, specifically in 1995, a similar shutdown occurred but lasted longer (Meyers, R. T., 1997). 


The process of budget formulation in the United States is known to follow strict guidelines and sophisticated procedures. State agencies, as well as other government operations, require funding on a yearly basis and hence the powers at play need to create and approve budgets within specified time frames. Time is a powerful variant in that failure to comply with the constitutionally stated deadline of October 1st can lead to a government shutdown. The process is however likely to go through successfully if both of the houses and the executive are under the same political domain. There will be minimal disparities, the stakeholders will function harmoniously, and thus the bills will be signed on time. On the other hand, a lot of time will be wasted and hence a shutdown.


Garrett, E. (1998). Rethinking the Structures of Decisionmaking in the Federal Budget ProcessHarv. J. on Legis.35, 387.

Meyers, R. T. (1997). Late appropriations and government shutdowns: Frequency, causes, consequences, and remedies. Public Budgeting & Finance17(3), 25-38.

Schick, A. (2008). The federal budget: Politics, policy, process. Brookings Institution Press.

Young, K. G. (2014). American exceptionalism and government shutdowns: A comparative constitutional reflection on the 2013 lapse in appropriations. BUL Rev.94, 991.

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