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The Budget Process

The federal budget runs on a fiscal year (FY) rather than a calendar-year schedule.

Fiscal years start before their corresponding calendar years, running from October 1 of the preceding year through September 30 of the following year.

  • FY 2015 is October 1, 2014, to September 30, 2015.
  • FY 2016 begins October 1, 2015.

Timeline

Early February: The president submits the administration's budget request for the next fiscal year to Congress. The date is often pushed back in the first year of a new presidential term.

February-April: The House and Senate budget committees each develop a budget resolution that includes an outline of spending levels for broad categories. Budget resolutions guide Congress in appropriating funds but do not carry the force of law.

  • Budget resolutions do not become final until the House and Senate agree to identical versions.

Mid-April: The action moves to the appropriations committees. The House and Senate appropriations leaders establish spending limits for their subcommittees, which work within these amounts to fund individual programs in their area (such as agriculture or foreign operations).

May-September: Spending bills need a series of approvals.

  • Subcommittees pass spending bills for their areas.
  • Next, the House and Senate appropriations committees pass their subcommittees' bills.
  • Then, the full House and Senate pass appropriations committee bills.
  • Finally, the House and Senate negotiate and approve a final appropriations bill.

Before October 1 (the first day of the new fiscal year):

  • The president signs the appropriations bills into law.

What if it doesn't go according to plan?

  • If there is no final bill when the fiscal year starts on October 1, Congress must pass a temporary extension, known as a "continuing resolution," to keep the government running.

Learn More:

View "The Federal Budget Process 101" — A presentation from Bread for the World’s National Gathering in June 2011

 

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