In a Nutshell:
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees’ “302(b) allocations” among their respective 12 subcommittees are a key annual decision point in allocating over a trillion dollars in discretionary spending. Example of Senate Appropriations Committee 302(b) allocations.
The Budget Resolution and Allocations to Committees and Subcommittees
Following the annual transmittal of the President’s Budget, the Congressional Budget Act requires Congress to commence its own budget process, including adoption of a spending and revenue framework: the annual Concurrent Resolution on the Budget (“Budget Resolution”).
The Senate and House Budget Committees – using the President’s Budget request, information from their own hearings, “views and estimates” from other committees of Congress, and projections from the Congressional Budget Office – are required to draft their respective versions of a Budget Resolution.
The Budget Resolution does not become a law and therefore is not presented to the President for signature. Rather, it is a congressional blueprint to guide subsequent action on specific spending and revenue measures.
The Budget Resolution: (1) sets total federal spending and revenue levels; (2) allocates spending to each full Committee, including a lump-sum to the Appropriations Committee for all “discretionary” spending; (3) establishes procedures to enforce the budget blueprint; and (4) may include optional special provisions called “budget reconciliation instructions” aimed at expediting changes to mandatory spending programs or tax laws through a filibuster-proof Budget Reconciliation Bill.
When the Senate and House have both passed their respective versions of a Budget Resolution, they typically appoint a conference committee to resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed resolutions. When differences have been resolved, each chamber then votes on the compromise version of the Budget Resolution. Both chambers must adopt the same resolution in identical form.
Following adoption of a Budget Resolution, the Budget Committees — based on the Resolution’s total spending levels and assumptions — “allocate” spending among the various committees of the House and Senate based on jurisdiction, with all discretionary spending allocated in one lump sum to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, respectively. These allocations to the full committees of the House and Senate are called “302(a) allocations,” based on the section of the Congressional Budget Act that sets forth the requirement.
[Because the Budget Resolution is intended to determine the total amount of budget authority available to the Appropriations Committees, the Budget Act prohibits Congress from considering Appropriations Bills prior to adoption of the Budget Resolution. However, recognizing that the House and Senate may not always come to agreement on a Budget Resolution, the House is permitted to begin consideration of appropriations bills on May 15th even if a Budget Resolution has not been adopted.]
Once the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have received their total spending allocations, they proceed to sub-divide their allocations among their respective 12 sub–committees. The allocations of discretionary spending (more than $1.2 trillion) among the 12 Appropriations subcommittees are called “302(b) allocations” and are a key decision point in the budget process. The 302(b) allocations determine how much spending is allocated to defense vs. health research vs. food safety vs. law enforcement, etc.
Diminishing Importance of 302(a) Allocations to Full Committees
The role of the Budget Resolution in setting total discretionary spending for the fiscal year via the 302(a) allocations to the full Appropriations Committee has been significantly diminished in recent years because total defense and non-defense discretionary spending have been set by statute. The Budget Control Act of 2011 set total levels for defense and non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending for each fiscal year through 2021. (These levels were subsequently increased by statute in the Bipartisan Budget Acts of 2013, 2015, and 2018.)
Continuing Importance of 302(b) Allocations to Appropriations Sub-Committees
Nevertheless, in every year the Appropriations Committees must sub-divide their defense and non-defense statutory lump-sum amounts among their respective 12 subcommittees. This is done through the Budget Resolution 302(b) sub-allocations, or, in years when a Budget Resolution is not timely completed, through a “Deeming Resolution.”
A Deeming Resolution, adopted individually by the House or Senate, “deems” the full Appropriations Committees’ allocations to their respective subcommittees to be valid 302(b) sub-allocations under the Budget Act.
This is significant for budget enforcement purposes because appropriations subcommittees are not permitted by the Budget Act to report bills that exceed their 302(b) sub-allocations. A bill that exceeds a subcommittee’s allocation can be blocked through parliamentary objections.