In our continuing effort to help members of The American Legion family in their efforts to follow and understand congressional actions, below we present a brief discussion about appropriations bills.

According to the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 7, clause 1), all bills relating to revenue - generally tax bills, but including appropriations measures - must originate in the House of Representatives. This is a holdover from the British parliamentary system, whereby the lower house (the House of Commons) produces all money bills.

The federal budget is an annual budget, meaning that - with few exceptions - all departments, agencies and other federal bodies must receive their funding every year. Most of these federal bodies receive discretionary spending, which generally changes from year to year. [Some federal programs, like Social Security and Medicare, are mandatory spending, with money assigned to these programs on a continuing basis until the program is terminated by law or has achieved its final goal.]

Each year, usually the first week of February, the president releases his proposed federal budget for the next fiscal year; the federal fiscal year begins on October 1. This budget proposal is arrived at after government agencies have informed the president of their needs for the upcoming year.

The budget is then submitted to Congress, where hearings are held to solicit input on the president's proposal from members of Congress and other groups such as The American Legion. Then, Congress passes a budget resolution, usually making minimal changes in the president's original budget proposal. Finally, working from the budget resolution, the House and Senate Appropriations committees makes specific allocations of funds to each of the 12 subcommittees of the Appropriations committees. Only then will the actual work of writing the appropriations bills that will fund federal government programs for the next fiscal year begin.

It is easy to find all appropriations bills on which both chambers of Congress are working. On the main page of THOMAS, go down the center of the page until you see the heading "More Legislative Information." The second link listed is "Appropriations Bills." When you click on that link, it will take you to a page devoted solely to all action taken on appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. Going to the "Appropriations Bills" page today, you will see the title "Status of Appropriations Legislation for Fiscal Year 2010" which is the current fiscal year. The pieces of legislation currently listed were all passed last year. On the page is a chart showing each of the 12 appropriations bills and the actions taken on each bill.

If you wanted to see action on bills for previous fiscal years, directly under the main heading is a secondary heading with a series of links for years from 2009 to 1998. Clicking on one of those years will take you to another page, with a similar chart.