About the Committee

On March 2, 1865, the House of Representatives separated the appropriating and banking and currency duties from the Committee on Ways and Means, which was first established in 1789, and assigned them to two new committees - the Committee on Appropriations and the Committee on Banking and Currency.

Until 1865, all "general" appropriations bills had been controlled in the House by the Committee on Ways and Means - also in charge of revenue measures and some other classes of substantive legislation. 

Membership of the Committee

The new Committee on Appropriations - seven Republicans and two Democrats - was appointed on December 11, 1865, in the 1st session of the 39th Congress, and first reported the general appropriations bills for the fiscal year 1867. By 1920, the number of members had grown to 21. It was changed that year to 35 and gradually increased to 50 by 1951. Until recently, the Committee numbered 66 members, but has since reduced its ranks to 53 members.

Committee Chairmen

Thirty-five Members of Congress have served as chairman of the Committee on Appropriations. The Honorable Clarence Cannon of Missouri, served as chairman nearly 19 years, although his term as chairman was of broken continuity. The Honorable George Mahon of Texas, served as chairman continuously longer than any other person, from May 18, 1964 to January 3, 1979. Several chairmen went on to higher or other important offices. One, James Garfield of Ohio, became President. Three, Samuel Randall of Pennsylvania, Joseph Cannon of Illinois, and Joseph Byrns of Tennessee, became Speaker of the House. Three later served in the U.S. Senate. One became Governor of his State. The list of distinctions is long. Interesting biographical sketches of 21 of the men are contained in House Document No. 299 of the 77th Congress.

The Growth of Expenditures

In the early years of the Congress, a single general appropriation bill from the Ways and Means Committee met the needs of the country. The first bill, in 1789, appropriated $639,000 and covered 13 lines of the printed statutes. Five years later, in 1794, the Army was supplied in a separate bill, then the Navy in 1799. This trend continued until in 1865, there were 10 bills passed over to the new Committee on Appropriations, not including deficiency bills. For fiscal year 1997, 13 appropriations bills have provided a total of $794.9 billion.

Until recent years, large sustained spending increases of the Federal Government usually occurred only in connection with wars. For several years prior to the Civil War, Federal expenditures averaged $60,000,000 annually. By the peak of the war, in fiscal year 1865, expenditures amounted to $1,297,555,224. The year following the war - fiscal year 1866 - spending was reduced to $520,809,417.

In the first year for which the new Committee on Appropriations reported the general bills, fiscal year 1867, total expenditures of the Government were $357,542,675. In the ensuing 100 years the lowest expenditure level was $236,964,327 - in fiscal year 1878. The Spanish-American War period marked the high point for the remainder of the century; in fiscal year 1899 expenditures reached $605,072,179, but by 1902 had dropped back to $485,234,249. With the onset of World War I expenditures again crossed the billion-dollar mark in fiscal year 1917, reached a war peak of $18,514,879,955 in fiscal year 1919, and receded by fiscal year 1927 to $2,974,029,674, the lowest subsequent level.

By 1940, spending in appropriations bills had climbed to $14.6 billion as a result mainly of various New Deal legislation - when we began meeting local problems with national programs. Since 1934, our national wealth has increased 41 times.

By 1943, the fiscal high point of World War II, some $143.8 billion was being spent. After World War II, spending declined to the $30 billion range and then increased to $91.1 billion in 1951 in connection with the Korean War.

After the Korean War, Federal spending in appropriations bills decreased to $47.6 billion in 1954. This is the last period in the Federal budget in which spending has decreased. Every year after 1954 spending has steadily increased in order to help meet the needs facing the country.

The Budget Process

By the early 1970s, new forces were at work calling for changes in the way in which Congress handled the budget and appropriations process.

One of the most compelling of these forces, although it was largely a temporary problem, was due to the "impoundment" of funds in fiscal year 1974 by the President. This was, in effect, a line item veto of funds for programs that were initiated or increased by the Congress. Many Members of Congress and certain special interest groups were outraged and extremely frustrated by the impoundments. Numerous court suits on various impoundments had been filed and were in the process of being heard.

A more serious reason for budget reform was due to the widely held belief that the budget was out of control. Deficits were mounting; so-called "uncontrollable" spending was climbing; and "back door" spending, i.e. spending provided other than through the Appropriations Committee, was increasing. It was also becoming clear that there was little, if any coordination between raising and spending revenues.

Additionally, there was a feeling among some Members of Congress that there needed to be other or additional ways to change the priorities of Federal spending. Because of these and other concerns, formal work was begun on improving the congressional budget process through the establishment of the Joint Study Committee on Budget Control.

The work of this Committee, the House Rules Committee, the Senate Committee on Government Operations, and the Senate Rules Committee eventually resulted in the adoption of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.