Historical Highlights

The Transformation of the Committee on Appropriations

March 02, 1865
The Transformation of the Committee on Appropriations Image courtesy of the Library of Congress After the wartime workload necessitated its creation in 1865, the Appropriations Committee evolved to become one the most powerful committees in the U.S. House of Representatives.  This early 1900s image features former Speaker of the House Joe Cannon of Illinois (at far left).
On this date, near the close of the 38th Congress (1863–1865), the U.S. House of Representatives officially made the Committee on Appropriations a standing committee with jurisdiction over spending bills. At the conclusion of the Civil War, Members of the House were eager to reduce the immense number of federal obligations and subsequent debt that had been necessary to finance the war. But rather than concentrate both revenue and spending bills in the Ways and Means Committee—and thereby risk insufficient oversight or inadequate debate—many Members pushed to divide the House’s fiscal workload in two. “We require of this new committee their whole labor in the restraint of extravagant and illegal appropriations,” said Representative Samuel Cox of Ohio, before concluding that the new committee was necessary in order to meet “the great duty which has been imposed by the emergencies of this historic time.” Several other Members, however, expressed their hesitancy to “separate the duties of finance from those of appropriations.” Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, who was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee at the time, balked at the idea of separating revenue bills from spending bills since, in his opinion, the two legislative areas “seem to be very properly connected.” Likewise, other Members favored dividing the House’s appropriations and tax responsibilities within an enlarged Ways and Means Committee. Ultimately, the House passed the amendment by voice vote. The change in committee jurisdictions also created the Banking Committee.

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