Fast Guide: Appropriations


Appropriations get tense and confusing each year. Our wild ones need you to be an educated advocate and speak out. This is where your voice matters. Call your representatives in Congress today,

Every year  in advocacy we need to address the government spending bills called “Appropriations.”

Appropriations are an important aspect of law as they do not simply fund government programs, they determine which aspects of programs are funded and can even change existing law as the spending bill becomes law.

One example of how an Appropriations bill can change the law is the Burns Amendment introduced into the 2004 spending bill. It created “sales without limit,” or to slaughter. Every year advocates have fought for defunding that provision, successfully, since the rider made it into the Omnibus. (more here)

Every year there is a lot of confusion in the public as these bills go through subcommittee, committee, full floor votes and sometimes end up with different bills in House and Senate and go back into debate.

A fast guide to the process

Spending is broken into three categories; mandatory, discretionary and interest on debt.


The annual process to create the federal discretionary budget.

The federal funding bill debate begins with the submission of the president’s annual budget request to the Congress. 

An allocation is determined in a budget resolution that has a primary purpose to set the level of discretionary funding (known as the “302a allocation”) for the next fiscal year.

Funding processes then move to the appropriations committees in each chamber with it’s “302a allocation.” The committee then divides up that allocation into 12 sections, the subcommittees. The various subcommittees then divide that funding level among the programs under their authority.

The subcommittee staff then produces an Appropriations bill that is goes to the full subcommittee for a vote. It is not common to see bills amended in subcommittee.

Appropriations Subcommittees

Appropriations Subcommittees in both the House and the Senate. Each subcommittees has jurisdiction over funding for a different area of the federal government. There are 12 different Appropriations subcommittees:

  • Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration
  • Commerce, Justice, and Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education
  • Legislative Branch
  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
  • State and Foreign Operations
  • Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development

On to the Full Committee

The bill, once passed in subcommittee, is then taken up by the full committee. Appropriations committees 

Often this is where we see several amendments to the underlying bill.

It has become common for Appropriations bills to include policy changes, or “riders.” Riders can make policy changes, like the Burns Amendment did. In the debate for fiscal 2020 (the one right now), we have pending changes to authorities that will change the law.

Riders can appear almost anywhere that a wild horse advocate must watch for. 

Then we get another round of voting and the bills pass to full floor of House and Senate.

All appropriations bills are supposed to be passed in “regular order,” meaning full passage of all 12 bills through both chambers and which are then signed by the president by the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1.

If not? we get the cycles of impending government “shutdowns” you saw over the last two years. To keep the government running a series of continuing resolutions (CRs), which are short-term spending bills that typically maintain funding levels at the previous year’s levels. are enacted.

Leadership in both chambers (House and Senate) most often negotiate on passing all the bills together in one combined package; the omnibus bill. Where less controversial bills have been passed into law, a package of the remaining appropriations bills that were not passed, will be bundled to finish funding work, and this package is known as a “minibus.”

Finally the budget goes to the President. There it can be signed into law or vetoed.

The Senate has a guide to the Appropriations process you can download HERE.

We will update you as we have more information and debates heat up in Congress in the article section on this website.


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