Current US Federal Government Spending

How Congress Really Spends Your Money

Government Spending

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Current U.S. government spending is $4.746 trillion. That's the federal budget for fiscal year 2020 covering October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020. It's 21% of gross domestic product according to the Office of Management and Budget Report for FY 2020.

Why Spending Is Increasing

Before the recession, the government kept federal spending below 20% of GDP. It grew no faster than the economy, around 2% to 3% per year. During the recession, spending grew to a record 24.3% of GDP in FY 2012. This increase was due to economic stimulus and two overseas wars.

At the same time, growth slowed. That reduced tax receipts. Congress worried about the ballooning U.S. debt. No one could agree on how to reduce it. As a result, Congress enacted a 10% budget cut, called sequestration. That finally reduced spending to 20.7% of GDP in FY 2015.

Since then, spending has crept up again despite the sequester. Congress and the president rely on deficit spending to boost economic growth. But deficit spending is out of control. It rises each year even when the economy is doing well.

Federal Spending Breakdown

Almost two-thirds of federal spending goes toward paying the benefits required by Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These are part of mandatory spending. Those are programs established by prior Acts of Congress.

The interest payments on the national debt consume 10% of the budget. These are also required to maintain faith in the U.S. government.

The remaining 30% of spending goes toward discretionary spending. This pays for all federal government agencies. The largest is the military.

Mandatory Spending

The mandatory budget will cost $2.841 trillion in FY 2020. Mandatory spending is skyrocketing because more baby boomers are reaching retirement age. By 2030, one in five Americans will be older than 65. 

Social Security costs the most at $1.102 trillion. Current payroll taxes provide $949 billion of the income. Interest from the Social Security Trust Fund pays for the rest.

But the costs will outpace interest and income by 2034. At that time, Social Security benefits will begin draining the general fund. It also means Congress can no longer "borrow" from the Social Security Trust Fund to pay for other federal programs.

Medicare ($679 billion) and Medicaid ($418 billion) are the next largest expenses. Medicare taxes pay for $289 billion of its cost. The rest comes from the general fund.

The following mandatory programs cost $642 billion: 

Interest Payments on the National Debt

In FY 2020, interest payments on the national debt are estimated at $479 billion. That's enough to pay for 10 Justice Departments. It's also one of the fastest growing expenses. 

By 2029, it will more than double to $823 billion, becoming the third-largest budget item after Social Security and Medicare. It's not a mandatory program, but it must be paid to avoid a U.S. debt default. These estimates will increase as interest rates continue rising.

Discretionary Spending 

Discretionary spending is $1.426 trillion. It pays for everything else. Congress decides how much to appropriate for these programs each year. It's the only government spending that Congress can more readily cut. 

There is an additional fund for emergencies. Congress allocates this outside of the budget subject to sequestration.

For FY 2020, the emergency fund is $200.1 billion. The largest component is Overseas Contingency Operations that pay for wars. 

Once you include the OCO fund, then military spending is $989 billion. It's spread out among different agencies and budget categories, so you must add it all together. It includes:

  • Defense Department base budget: $576 billion.
  • DoD Overseas Contingency Operations: $174 billion.
  • Departments that support defense: $212.9 billion. They include the Department of Veterans Affairs, State Department, Homeland Security, FBI and Cybersecurity, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • Emergency funding for support departments: $26.1 billion.

The next largest department, Health and Human Services ($89.6 billion) is less than one-tenth of total military spending. Its primary function is to spend mandated benefits for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. Other important federal government functions get even fewer funds.

Understand the Current Federal Budget

Compare to Past Budgets

Article Sources

  1. The White House. "A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First," Accessed Nov. 29, 2019.