The Budget of the United States Government is a federal document that the President submits to the U.S. Congress. The President's budget submission outlines funding recommendations for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1st. Congressional decisions are governed by rules and legislation regarding the federal budget process. House and Senate Budget committees each develop budget resolutions, which provide spending limits for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees' subcommittees, which then approve individual appropriations bills to allocate funding to various federal programs. After Congress approves an appropriations bill, it is sent to the President, who may sign it into law, or may veto it. A vetoed bill is sent back to Congress, which can pass it into law with a two-thirds majority in each chamber. Congress may also combine all or some appropriations bills into an omnibus reconciliation bill. In addition, the President may request and the Congress may pass supplemental appropriations bills or emergency supplemental appropriations bills.
Several government agencies provide budget data and analysis. These include the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Treasury Department. These agencies have reported that the federal government is facing a series of important long-term financing challenges. Expenditures related to entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are growing considerably faster than the economy overall, as the population matures.
The U.S. Constitution (Article I, section 9, clause 7) states that "[n]o money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time."
Each year, the President of the United States submits his budget request to Congress for the following fiscal year, as required by the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. Current law (31 U.S.C. 1105(a)) requires the President to submit a budget no earlier than the first Monday in January, and no later than the first Monday in February. Typically, Presidents submit budgets on the first Monday in February.
The federal budget is calculated largely on a cash basis. That is, revenues and outlays are recognized when transactions are made. Therefore, the full long-term costs of entitlement programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and the federal portion of Medicaid, are not reflected in the federal budget. By contrast, many business and some foreign governments have adopted forms of accrual accounting, which recognizes obligations and revenues when they are incurred. The costs of some federal credit and loan programs, according to provisions of the Federal Credit Reform Act of 1990, are calculated on a net present value basis.
Federal agencies cannot spend money unless funds are authorized and appropriated. Typically, separate Congressional committees have jurisdiction over authorization and appropriations. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have 12 subcommittees, which are responsible for drafting the 12 regular appropriations bills, which determine amounts of discretionary spending for various federal programs. Appropriations bills must pass Congress and be signed by the President in order to give federal agencies legal authority to spend. In many recent years, regular appropriations bills have been combined into "omnibus" bills.
Congress may also pass "special" or "emergency" appropriations. Spending that is deemed an "emergency" is exempt from certain Congressional budget enforcement rules. Funds for disaster relief have sometimes come from supplemental appropriations, such as after Hurricane Katrina. In other cases, funds included in emergency supplemental appropriations bills support activities not obviously related to actual emergencies, such as parts of the 2000 Census of Population and Housing. Special appropriations have been used to fund most of the costs of war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Budget resolutions and appropriations bills, which reflect spending priorities of Congress, will usually differ from funding levels in in the President's budget. The President, however, retains substantial influence over the budget process through his veto power and through his congressional allies when his party has a majority in Congress. The Democratic Party, having won a net increase of seats in both the House and Senate in the November 2006 elections, has had control of Congress since January 2007.
The U.S. Federal Government collected $2,568 billion in FY2007, while spending $2,730 billion, generating a total deficit of $162 billion, which was added to the United States public debt. Since 1970, the U.S. Federal Government has run deficits for all but four years (1998-2001) adding to a total debt of $9.34 trillion as of April 24, 2008.
Individual income taxes (45%) and Social Security/Social Insurance taxes (34%) are the primary receipt categories. Social Security, Defense, and Medicare/Medicaid spending are the main spending categories, at roughly 20% of total expenditures each.
Several government agencies provide budget data. These include the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the U.S. Treasury Department. CBO publishes an economic and budget outlook in January, which is typically updated in August. OMB, which is responsible for organizing the President's budget presented in February, typically issues a budget update in July. GAO and Treasury issue Financial Statements of the U.S. Government, usually in the December following the close of the federal fiscal year, which occurs September 30. The Treasury Dept. also produces a Combined Statement of Receipts, Outlays, and Balances each December for the preceding fiscal year, which provides detailed data on federal financial activities.
According to CBO projections (The Long-Term Outlook, Alternative Fiscal Scenario), spending on Social Security is projected to reach 6.1% of GDP and Medicare and Medicaid are projected to total 12.5% of GDP in FY2050. By comparison, federal outlays in FY2007 were 20% of GDP and federal revenues were 18.8% of GDP. In other words, spending on those three programs is projected to take up nearly the same proportion of the economy in FY2050 as all federal revenues in FY2007. Unless these long-term fiscal imbalances are addressed by raising taxes or drastic cuts in discretionary programs, the federal government will at some point be unable to pay its obligations.
As discussed further below, the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) program began to run a deficit in FY 2007 and Social Security follows thereafter in 2017. Both programs are funded by dedicated payroll taxes that do not cover payouts and run increasing deficits for the foreseeable future, placing significant pressure on the budget.
Social Security spending will increase sharply over the next decades, largely due to the retirement of the baby boom generation. The number of workers paying into the program continues declining relative to those receiving benefits. The number of workers paying into the program was 6.1 per retiree in 1960; this declined to 3.3 in 2007 and is projected to decline to 2.1 by 2040.The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that an increase in payroll taxes equivalent to 1.8% of gross domestic product (GDP) would be necessary to put the Social Security program in fiscal balance for the next 75 years. (CBO, The Long-Term Outlook, Dec. 2007)In other words, raising the payroll tax rate to 14.1% during 2008 (from the current 12.4%) or cutting benefits by 11.4% would address the program's budgetary concerns indefinitely; these amounts increase to around 16% and 22% if no changes are made until 2041. Projections of Social Security's solvency are sensitive to assumptions about rates of economic growth and demographic changes.
Since recommendations of the Greenspan Commission were adopted in the early 1980s, Social Security payroll taxes have exceeded benefit payments. In FY2007, Social Security received $187 billion more in payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits. This annual surplus is credited to Social Security trust funds that hold special non-negotiable Treasury securities, although it is borrowed and spent by the government for other purposes. The total balance of the trust funds is $2.2 trillion in 2007 and is estimated to reach $4.3 trillion by 2017. At that point, payments will exceed payroll tax revenues, resulting in the gradual reduction of the trust funds balance as the securities are redeemed against other types of government revenues. By 2041, the trust funds will be exhausted. Under current law, Social Security payouts would be reduced by 22% at that time, as only payroll taxes are authorized to cover benefits.
The present value of unfunded obligations under Social Security during FY 2007 is approximately $6.8 trillion. In other words, this amount would have to be set aside today such that the principal and interest would cover the shortfall over the next 75 years.
Social Security trust fund amounts have been borrowed and spent and are a component of the national debt. Further, payroll tax receipt surpluses are considered part of the total tax revenue base of the federal government, effectively reducing the reported budget deficit relative to what it would be if social security were accounted for separately. Social Security payroll taxes and benefit payments, along with the net balance of the U.S. Postal Service are considered "off-budget." Administrative costs of the Social Security Administration (SSA), however, are classified as "on-budget."
The total federal deficit is the sum of the on-budget deficit (or surplus) and the off-budget deficit (or surplus). Since FY1960, the federal government has run on-budget deficits except for FY1999 and FY2000, and total federal deficits except in FY1969 and FY1998-FY2001.
Using 2007 as an example, the "On-Budget" deficit of $344 billion is reduced by the "Off-budget" surplus of $182 billion to arrive at the "Total" deficit of $162 billion. It is this latter amount that is often reported in the media. The national debt increased approximately $500 billion in 2007, which is the $344 billion on-budget deficit plus an additional $156 billion of supplemental appropriations or otherwise non-budgeted expenditures, primarily the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and earmarks.
Spending on Medicare and Medicaid is projected to grow dramatically in coming decades. While the same demographic trends that affect Social Security also affect Medicare, rapidly rising medical prices appear a more important cause of projected spending increases.
The CBO has indicated that: "Future growth in spending per beneficiary for Medicare and Medicaid—the federal government’s major health care programs—will be the most important determinant of long-term trends in federal spending. Changing those programs in ways that reduce the growth of costs—which will be difficult, in part because of the complexity of health policy choices—is ultimately the nation’s central long-term challenge in setting federal fiscal policy." Further, the CBO also projects that "total federal Medicare and Medicaid outlays will rise from 4 percent of GDP in 2007 to 12 percent in 2050 and 19 percent in 2082—which, as a share of the economy, is roughly equivalent to the total amount that the federal government spends today. The bulk of that projected increase in health care spending reflects higher costs per beneficiary rather than an increase in the number of beneficiaries associated with an aging population.
The present value of unfunded obligations under all parts of Medicare during FY 2007 is approximately $34.0 trillion. In other words, this amount would have to be set aside today such that the principal and interest would cover the shortfall over the next 75 years.
GDP is a measure of the total size and output of the economy. One measure of the debt burden facing the country is measuring debt relative to GDP. In fiscal year 2007, the public debt was approximately $5.0 trillion (36.8 percent of GDP) and the total debt was $9.0 trillion (65.5 percent of GDP.) The public debt represents money owed to those holding government securities such as treasury bills and bonds. The total debt includes intra-governmental debt, which includes amounts owed to the Social Security Trust Funds (about $2.2 trillion in FY 2007) and Civil Service Retirement Funds. By August 2008, the total debt was $9.6 trillion.
Historical analysis of government spending or debt relative to GDP can potentially be misleading, according to the GAO, CBO, and U.S. Treasury Department. This is because the rate of increase in entitlement spending is now significantly higher than the growth in GDP and expected tax revenues. If significant reforms are not undertaken, benefits under entitlement programs will exceed government income by over $40 trillion over the next 75 years.According to the GAO, this will cause debt ratios relative to GDP to double by 2040 and double again by 2060, reaching 600 percent by 2080.These non-partisan organizations have used words such as "unsustainable" and "trainwreck" to describe the budget situation 20-40 years hence if substantive reforms are not made.
Due to the variety of special appropriations spending that is excluded from the budget deficit calculations, it can be difficult to determine how much the government actually spends relative to revenues. The increase in the national debt during a given year is a helpful measure to determine this amount. Since FY 2003, the national debt has increased approximately $550 billion per year on average.In relative terms, from 2003-2007 the government spent roughly $1.20 for each $1.00 it collected in taxes.
GAO defines "earmarking" as "designating any portion of a lump-sum amount for particular purposes by means of legislative language." Earmarking can also mean "dedicating collections by law for a specific purpose." In some cases, legislative language may direct federal agencies to spend funds for specific projects. In other cases, earmarks refer to directions in appropriation committee reports, which are not law. Various organizations have estimated the total number and amount of earmarks. An estimated 16,000 earmarks containing nearly $48 billion in spending were inserted into larger, often unrelated bills during 2005. While the number of earmarks has grown in the past decade, the total amount of earmarked funds is approximately 1-2 percent of federal spending.
The appropriate level and distribution of federal taxes has long been a controversial topic. Since the 1970s, some "supply side" economists have contended that lowering taxes could stimulate economic growth to such a degree that tax revenues could rise, other factors being held constant. However, economic models and econometric analysis have found scant support for the "supply side" theory.
Some economists have called for using "dynamic scoring models," which incorporate feedback effects of tax cuts. CBO has concluded, however, that standard scoring methods incorporate the most important and immediate feedback effects and that attempting to include other feedback effects would lead to speculative results. CBO, and Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard macroeconomist and former head of the Council of Economic Advisors in the George W. Bush administration, have concluded that cuts in federal taxes could stimulate new economic activity that would generate revenues that offset nearly half the cost of the tax cut, if reduced revenues were matched by spending cuts. Offsets when lost revenues were not matched by spending cuts were much lower. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury issued an analysis of dynamic scoring models that implied that only 7% of lost revenues would be offset by revenue feedback effects. These studies suggest that federal tax cuts would dramatically increase deficits.
While total U.S. tax receipts grew from 2004 to 2007 by an average of $189.4 billion per year in current dollars, the studies cited above would conclude that such tax receipts would have been significantly higher had the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts not been made. Income tax revenues in dollar terms did not regain their FY 2000 peak until 2006. Total federal tax revenues relative to GDP have yet to regain their 2000 peak.
Francis Fukuyama summarized these concepts: "Prior to the 1980s, conservatives were fiscally conservative— that is, they were unwilling to spend more than they took in in taxes. But Reaganomics introduced the idea that virtually any tax cut would so stimulate growth that the government would end up taking in more revenue in the end (the so-called Laffer curve). In fact, the traditional view was correct: if you cut taxes without cutting spending, you end up with a damaging deficit. Thus the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s produced a big deficit; the Clinton tax increases of the 1990s produced a surplus; and the Bush tax cuts of the early 21st century produced an even larger deficit. The fact that the American economy grew just as fast in the Clinton years as in the Reagan ones somehow didn't shake the conservative faith in tax cuts as the surefire key to growth.
Some politicians and economists have argued that the U.S. can "grow its way" out of these fiscal challenges. Their argument is that economic growth (driven by tax cuts, productivity improvements, and borrowing) will generate sufficient tax revenue to offset growing entitlement spending. However, the GAO has estimated that double-digit GDP growth would be required for the next 75 years to do so; GDP growth averaged 3.2% during the 1990's. Because mandatory spending growth rates will far exceed any reasonable growth rate in GDP and the tax base, the GAO concluded that the U.S. cannot grow its way out of the problem.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the President's FY2009 budget proposals would provide $188 billion in budget authority for FY2008. CBO estimates that appropriations for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 through February 2008 total $752 billion. That would be approximately 4% of federal spending over the period.
Budget authority is legal authority to obligate the federal government. For many war-related activities there may be a long lag between the time when budget authority is granted and when payments (outlays) are made by the U.S. Treasury. In particular, spending on reconstruction activities in Iraq and Afghanistan has lagged behind available budget authority. In other cases, the military uses contracts that are payable upon completion, which can create long lags between appropriations and outlays.
In principle, the Department of Defense (DoD) separates war funding from base funding. In most cases, however, funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan use the same accounts as other DoD accounts. This raises challenges to attempts to achieve a precise separation of expenditures on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan from the base defense operations.
Appropriations "Budget authority to incur obligations and to make payments from the Treasury for specified purposes."
Budget Authority "Authority provided by federal law to enter into financial obligations that will result in immediate or future outlays involving federal government funds."
Outlay "The issuance of checks, disbursement of cash, or electronic transfer of funds made to liquidate a federal obligation." The term "outlays" is usually synonymous with "expenditure" or "spending."
The amount of budget authority and outlays for a fiscal year usually differ because budget authority from a previous fiscal year in some cases can be used for outlays in the current fiscal year. Some military and some housing programs have multi-year appropriations, in which budget authority is specified for several coming fiscal years.
The President's budget also contains revenue and spending projections for the current fiscal year, the coming fiscal years, as well as several future fiscal years. In recent years, the President's budget contained projections five years into the future. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issues a "Budget and Economic Outlook" each January and an analysis of the President's budget each March. CBO also issues an updated budget and economic outlook in August.
Actual budget data for prior years is available from the Congressional Budget Office and from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) .