Cyclopedia of Congressional Budget Law

Discretionary Spending


The term discretionary spending is a category of  authority to obligate the Federal Government to provide funds. It is contained in annual appropriation measures, though when an appropriation in the form found in an appropriation act is contained in non-appropriation Act, it ceases to be scored as “discretionary”.  It may be contrasted with “direct spending”, which is defined as the authority to spend provided by Congress in a measure other than an Appropriation act. 

GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)


A term that usually modifies either “spending,” “appropriation,” or “amount.” “Discretionary spending” refers to outlays from budget authority that is provided in and controlled by appropriation acts. “Discretionary appropriation” refers to those budgetary resources that are provided in appropriation acts, other than those that fund mandatory programs. “Discretionary amount” refers to the level of budget authority, outlays, or other budgetary resources (other than those which fund mandatory programs) that are provided in, and controlled by, appropriation acts. (See also Appropriation Act; Appropriations under Forms of Budget Authority under Budget Authority; One-Year Authority under Duration under Budget AuthorityGramm-Rudman-HollingsFor a contrast, see Entitlement AuthorityMandatory.)

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Discretionary Spending: A category of spending (budget authority and outlays) subject to the annual appropriations process. (See Appropriations Acts.)

[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).]


Discretionary Action


Discretionary Spending Limits