Appropriations to the Extreme: Partisanship and the Power of the Purse

  • Geoffrey W. Buhl
  • Scott A. Frisch
  • Sean Q. Kelly


On July 15, 2010, senators filed into the Appropriations Committee meeting room. They were there to vote on 302(b) spending levels, which dictate the amount that each subcommittee has to spend on programs within their subcommittee’s jurisdiction. Then chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) laid his proposal before the committee. Historically, votes on such allocations were not controversial, having been worked out by the chair and ranking member prior to the meeting. However, things were different this time. Senate Republican leader and Appropriations Committee member Mitch McConnell (KY) who typically does not attend such meetings responded with lower allocation spending numbers, claiming that in the absence of a Budget Resolution, it was up to the Appropriations Committee to show leadership on reducing spending. Inouye suggested spending levels that fell between their two proposals. It appeared that the two sides were moving toward a compromise. Typically, 302(b) allocations are made on a bipartisan basis. What happened next shocked a senior Senate Appropriations Committee staffer: “[Ranking Republican member] Senator Cochran said ‘well that seems like a good deal to me.’ He said that, and he stared daggers at McConnell; and McConnell just threw him under the bus and said ‘No.’ [Republican] members all fell into line behind Senator McConnell … a lot of them didn’t like it … but they felt they had to support the leadership.”1 Thirty-eight billion dollars separated the two sides: “In the broader scheme of things it’s irrelevant… but those are ideological issues that are creeping into the debate,” said a former Senate Appropriations staffer. Inouye ended up passing the allocation on a straight party line vote. That year none of the 12 spending bills needed to fund the government’s operations passed the Senate by the start of the fiscal year.


Party Leader Committee Chair Roll Call Vote Committee Assignment Appropriation Process 
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Copyright information

© Scott A. Frisch and Sean Q Kelly 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey W. Buhl
  • Scott A. Frisch
  • Sean Q. Kelly

There are no affiliations available

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