Cyclopedia of Congressional Budget Law

Emergencies Under Section 251 (BBEDCA)


The term emergency, when used in budget law, indicates a form of spending that is given special treatment due the circumstances under which it is provided, or the purposes to which it is directed.


Congressional Budget Act of 1974

Sec. 3.[1] In general.— For purposes of this Act—

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(11) The terms “emergency” and “unanticipated” have the meanings given to such terms in section 250(c) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

Balanced  Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985

Section 250(c) set forth the definitions for the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, but they are generally employed for budget law purposes. The definition in that subsection read as follows: 

(c) Definitions.—As used in this part:

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(20) The term “emergency” means
a situation that—

(A) requires new budget authority and outlays (or new budget
authority and the outlays flowing therefrom) for the prevention or mitigation
of, or response to, loss of life or property, or a threat to national security;

(B) is unanticipated.

(21) The term “unanticipated” means that the underlying situation is—

(A) sudden, which means quickly coming into being or not building
up over time;

(B) urgent, which means a pressing and compelling need requiring
immediate action;

(C) unforeseen, which means not predicted or anticipated as an emerging need; and

(D) temporary, which means not of a permanent duration.

GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)


A term that usually modifies “appropriation,” “legislation,” or “supplemental.” Under procedures typically prescribed in concurrent resolutions on the budget, the House or the Senate, or their respective committees of jurisdiction, may designate proposed appropriations or other legislation as “emergency legislation” and thereby exempt any new budget authority, outlays, or receipts resulting from such legislation from specified enforcement provisions in the Congressional Budget Act, the concurrent resolution itself, or both. (See also Appropriations under Forms of Budget Authority under Budget Authority.)

Acts appropriating funds for national or international emergencies such as natural disasters or urgent national security events are typically designated “emergency supplemental.” (See also Supplemental Appropriation.)

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Emergency Spending: As provided in the Budget Enforcement Act, a provision of legislation designated as an emergency by both the President and the Congress. As a result, this additional spending is not subject to the discretionary caps or the pay go requirements and thus will not cause a sequester. In addition, emergency legislation is effectively exempt from Budget Act points of order.

There is no specific criteria in the law for emergency spending. However, the following criteria were contained in a June 1991 report prepared by the Office of Management and Budget—as required by Pub. L. No. 102-55 for the determination of whether to designate spending as an emergency spending:

Necessary expenditure.—an essential or vital expenditure, not one that is merely useful or beneficial;

Sudden.—quickly coming into being, not building up over time;

Urgent.—pressing and compelling need requiring immediate action;

Unforseen.—not predictable or seen beforehand as a coming need (an emergency that is part of an aggregate level of anticipated emergencies, particularly when normally estimated in advance, would not be “unforeseen”); and

Not permanent.—the need is temporary in nature.

[The Congressional Budget Process: An Explanation, Appendix J (Glossary), Committee on the Budget of the U.S. Senate, S. Prt. 105-67 (Revised December 1998).]


Elastic Clause


Entitlement Authority