116th Congress Update: How Senate Committees Get Their Money

(This is an update of a 2019 article on how Senate Committees are funded. It has been updated for the 116th Congress.) 

UPDATED TRENDS IN SENATE COMMITTEE FUNDING

How do Senate committees get their funding and how has funding changed over the last 25 years? We crunched the numbers for you and here are the highlights:

  • Senate Committee spending saw a slight uptick in funding this session, but is still well short of its peak 2010 funding. 
  • Appropriations continues to reign; the committee gets the largest portion of the funding and doesn’t have to ask for money.
  • Every Senate Committee experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999.
  • While Senate Committees are still struggling with scarce funding, they’re in much better shape than House committees, which have seen draconian cuts since 2010.

HOW FUNDING FOR COMMITTEES HAS CHANGED OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS

We used data from this CRS report plus some of our own research to look at: 

  1. Total committee spending from 1995 to present.
  2. The change in spending per committee from 1999 to present.
  3. Spending per committee in the last Congress.

The takeaway? Committee spending in the Senate this Congress saw a slight uptick after hitting an 18-year low during the prior session. While this slight increase is a step in the right direction, the numbers still aren’t remotely close to their 2010 funding peak, resulting in resources scarcity for staff to do their jobs. 

To check our work, you can access the un-adjusted committee spending data from 1995-2020 and the inflation adjusted committee spending data from 1995-2020.

TOTAL COMMITTEE SPENDING

Adjusting for inflation, Senate committee spending this Congress has increased from the prior session, but is still $83 million below the peak in 2010. 

Overall, the Senate spent about $244 million (in 2019 adjusted dollars) on its committees. Spending was at its highest during the Democratically-controlled 111th Congress, totalling $327.1 million (again in 2019 adjusted dollars). By contrast, the Senate spent roughly half that amount on committees during the Republican-controlled 106th Congress for a total of $167.9 million (inflation adjusted dollars).

SPENDING PER COMMITTEE

The 116th Senate once again spent the largest portion of funds on the Appropriations committee, which had more money than the Intelligence, Banking, and Veterans Affairs committees combined. You can see how the remaining funds were divided in the charts below: 

CHANGES IN SPENDING PER COMMITTEE

At first glance, the data show that every Senate committee has experienced an increase in spending between the 106th and 116th Congresses in inflation adjusted dollars, with each committee seeing at least a 50% increase in funding since 1999. This is primarily because the Senate cut their committee budgets from $163.7 million to $134.8 million in 1999 (see the Senate Committee funding chart above), resulting in a lower baseline number. 

A number of committees saw growth rates over triple digits, with the Select Committee on Intelligence leading the pack with an 117% increase. Senate Finance came in second with a 113% increase while Senate Foreign Relations rounded out the top three with a 110% increase. 

The Appropriations Committee, who is consistently the highest funded committee, saw a 60% increase. While this increase is significant, it’s not close to the 100% increase that was observed from the 105th to 115th Congresses in our 2019 analysis. HSGAC, the second best funded committee, saw a 74.5% increase, which was good for 11th overall on the list. 

The Rules Committee, which has one of the smallest budgets in the Senate at around $5 million, saw the smallest increase in funding at 51%. 

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN? 

While the 116th Senate observed a slight increase in overall committee funding, it is still down from the 2010 levels. However, there has been a net increase in committee spending over the last two decades with the largest comparative amount going to Senate appropriators. Looking at historical trends in funding based on party, it will be interesting to see what transpires if the Senate flips to a Democratic majority in November. 

THE SENATE COMMITTEE FUNDING PROCESS 

Senate committees get their funding through a two-step process: authorization and appropriation.

At the beginning of each new Congress, nearly all committees submit funding resolutions to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration (Rules Committee); some committee chairs and ranking members supplement the resolutions with testimony before the committee. The Rules Committee then drafts a resolution that authorizes the committee to spend money, which is passed by the Senate. (It can be an omnibus, like this, or there can be multiple resolutions.) Note, however, that the Senate Appropriations Committee is not subject to this authorizing process, and its funding is directly appropriated in the appropriations bill. (For an example, see line 14 of page 3.)

The Rules Committee sets a ceiling on how much money each committee that it authorizes spending for may access during designated calendar periods: March 1 to September 30 of the first year of a Congress, October 1 to September 30 of the following year, and from October 1 to end of the following February. 

Appropriations for committee funding occur annually prior to the start of the fiscal year on October 1. The Legislative Branch appropriations subcommittee appropriates a lump sum of money for all Senate committees (except for the appropriations committee and conference committees, which are provided for separately). 

It’s important to note that these two cycles, authorization and appropriations, operate on two entirely different calendars. Committee authorizations are usually for two years and the resolution is usually passed by March 1. The appropriations cycle usually takes place prior to the start of the fiscal year on October 1. 

The Legislative Branch appropriations subcommittee generally does not dictate spending levels for each individual committee — that happens through the committee authorization process, described above — nor does it govern how funding for staff will be divided between the majority and minority. The division of staff between majority and minority is governed by Senate Rule XXVII, and reflects the relative majority and minority composition of the committee.