Political Bargaining and the Timing of Congressional Appropriations


  • A previous version was presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA. We thank Jesse Richman, Kristin Kanthak, Jennifer Victor, and participants in the American Politics Workshop at the University of Pittsburgh for helpful comments and discussion and Galina Zapryanova and Shawna Metzger for their research assistance. We also thank Jason MacDonald for helpful comments and for generously providing data on limitation riders.


Although Congress passes spending bills every year, there is great variation in the amount of time it takes. Drawing from rational models of bargaining, we identify factors that systematically affect the duration of legislative bargaining in the appropriations process. Analysis of spending bills for fiscal years 1977 to 2009 shows that delays are shorter when the ideological distance between pairs of key players decreases and distributive content is higher, but they are longer following an election. We find that congressional parties matter but that intraparty conflict matters as well, which suggests that Appropriations Committees retain significant autonomy in Congress.