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How Congress Controls the Budget in Washington, D.C.

Congress exists to prevent the executive branch in Washington, D.C., from exercising total control over U.S. legislation. The primary job of Congress is money and the budget — a subject that, one way or another, touches the daily lives of every American citizen.

With Congress possessing the sole power to draft and pass the budget and laws of the land — leaving the president limited to signing or vetoing said laws — no one group can hold sway over the direction in which the United States is governed. (Even when a single party controls the executive branch and both the Senate and House, that party’s competitors still have a say in how Congress acts.)

While Congress is often seen as a group that slows rather than expedites the process of democracy, its function as a body of debate and compromise is essential to the health of the American experiment.

Members of Congress determine how much, how often, and in what circumstances to tax the American people. They also decide how tax revenues are appropriated and spent across the entire federal government. (Most of your tax money is actually spent by the executive branch, although Congress and the federal courts also have their own budgets.)

Commonly referred to as the power of the purse, this responsibility is the primary check on the executive branch’s power. In other words, this function of Congress prevents the President from ever using the national treasury as his personal bank account.

Though both the Senate and House have equal authority, only the House is authorized to originate revenue and appropriations bills. (And the House is more beholden to popular opinion than the Senate because of its structure.)

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