A Primer on the Budget Resolution and the Legislative Process

  • President's Budget: Presented to Congress each year at the beginning of the calendar year (January or February) for the next fiscal year that begins October 1, and outlines the President's spending priorities (President proposes, Congress disposes).
  • Budget Resolution: Broad outline of spending for the year developed by House and Senate and agreed to by both bodies but not signed by President. It is not a law and is non-binding, although allocations of funds to appropriators follow Budget Resolution outlines in most cases. Sometimes outlines a five-year (or longer) plan.
  • Appropriations: Annual spending legislation. After the Budget Resolution passes, each of the 13 subcommittees is given their 602(b) funding allocations for the year (13 separate funding bills). The appropriations bills are then drafted to stay within those allocations. Those bills should be passed before October 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year.
  • Authorization: Authorizing committees deal with legislation to authorize or constitute programs. Authorizing language sets out parameters for uses of funds for the programs and usually sets a dollar amount for funding for the first year of the law, followed by four more years at "such sums" as Congress decides.

With the passage of the Budget Resolution by the House and Senate, the overall budget plans for the next few years are outlined. Once the plan is in place, allocations to the 13 appropriations subcommittees will be set out. Markups on the appropriations bills for this next fiscal year (FY 2007) will start in the House. The fiscal year begins October 1, so attempts will be made to finish voting on those bills by October 1. If some major appropriations bills - like the Labor, Health and Human Services Education bill - are unfinished and the fiscal year begins, continuing resolutions are passed to keep government going until the bills are finished. For 2004 the final bill was not completed until January.

Although the Budget Resolution has been approved, there are occasions when previous budget resolutions have either been ignored in terms of spending limitations or not passed in the first place.

There are always some unknown factors that could influence spending either now or in future years. Defense spending is also a part of the budget pie as are mandatory expenses like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other entitlements.

In addition, there are occasions requiring supplementary appropriations bills to cover emergency spending for farm relief because of drought or weather-related catastrophes or other emergencies.

In summary, what the Budget Resolution does is make an outline or plan for spending and then, within those guidelines; the legislation is formulated and passed to appropriate (or designate) specific dollar amounts for that spending.

At the same time, Congress passes laws that authorize programs, like they did in December 2001 with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Without the authorizing legislation, it is much harder to get programs appropriated for or funded. This year, we are continuing work to reauthorize the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). The law was enacted in 1996, putting it on the books, with an original reauthorization date of 2002.

We also ask for funding for those programs, because appropriations are only passed for a year at a time. So every year programs must be funded; but every five years or so, Congress must scrutinize the laws authorizing those programs to decide whether or not to keep, change or eliminate them.

Library program funds are distributed through the Institute of Museum and Library Services to each state. Library programs are part of the annual Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill. Also of interest to librarians is the new Literacy Through School Libraries program that is funded as a line item in the Department of Education.

ALA typically takes a position for increases for education. We are part of a large education and education-related coalition that lobbies for the highest number for education.

We specifically communicate to Congress about the importance of funding federal libraries, like the Library of Congress, the National Agricultural Library, the National Library of Medicine etc, as well as programs in the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. We also lobby for increases for adult education and literacy, reading programs, the Department of Ed Institute of Research and Statistics college work-study, Higher Education Act Title VI--and we have also participated in coalition activities to fund facilities (school construction). ALA also has taken positions in favor of tax benefits for charitable contributions to libraries and museums. In addition, we look for opportunities for libraries of all kinds to become involved in education programs like those for early childhood education.