U.S. Federal Budget Breakdown

Learn the budget's components and its impact on the U.S. economy

President Biden meeting with officials at the White House
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Kevin Dietsch / Staff / Getty Images

Government spending is broken down into three categories: mandatory spending, discretionary spending, and interest on the national debt. Each category of spending has different subcategories.

President Joe Biden released a $6.011 trillion federal budget proposal in May 2021 for fiscal year (FY) 2022. The U.S. government estimates it will receive $4.174 trillion in revenue through Sept. 30, 2022, creating a $1.837 trillion deficit for Oct. 1, 2022. The Congressional Budget Office predicted before Biden's budget proposal was released that the deficit would be $2.3 trillion.

The estimate has changed to $3.4 trillion as a result of the American Rescue Plan. Mandatory spending is budgeted at $4.018 trillion. Discretionary spending is forecasted to be $1.688 trillion. Interest on the national debt is estimated to be $305 billion.

Key Takeaways

  • President Biden’s budget for FY 2022 totals $6.011 trillion, eclipsing all other previous budgets.
  • Mandatory expenditures, such as Social Security, Medicare, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, account for about 65% of the budget.
  • Budget expenditures exceed federal revenues by $1.873 trillion for FY 2022.
  • Most of these revenues come from taxes and earnings from quantitative easing.

Revenue

The federal government estimates it will receive $4.174 trillion in revenue in FY 2022. Most of this revenue is in the form of taxes paid by taxpayers either through income or payroll taxes. The estimate for each type of revenue is as follows:

  • Income taxes contribute $2.039 trillion or 49% of total receipts.
  • Social Security, Medicare, and other payroll taxes add $1.462 trillion or 35%.
  • Corporate taxes supply $371 billion or 9%.
  • Excise taxes and tariffs contribute $141 billion or 3%.
  • Earnings from the Federal Reserve's holdings add $102 billion or 2%. Those are interest payments on the U.S. Treasury debt the Fed acquired through quantitative easing.
  • Estate taxes and other miscellaneous revenue supply the remaining 2%.

Spending

The government expects to spend $6.011 trillion in 2022. More than 65% of that pays for mandated benefits such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Discretionary spending pays for everything else. It will be $1.688 trillion. The U.S. Congress appropriates this amount each year using the president's budget as a starting point. 

Interest on the U.S. debt is estimated to be $305 billion. Interest on the approximate $29 trillion federal debt is the fastest-growing federal expense, expected to double by 2028.

The U.S. Treasury must pay the interest to avoid a U.S. debt default. A debt default by the U.S. has unknown consequences because it has never happened.

Note

The U.S. debt limit hovered at about $28.4 trillion through December 2021, until Congress passed legislation to raise it by an additional $2.5 trillion. It stood at more than $31 trillion as of December 16, 2021.

Mandatory Spending

Mandatory spending is estimated to be $4.018 trillion in FY 2022. This category includes entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment compensation. It also includes welfare programs such as Medicaid.

Social Security will be the biggest expense, budgeted at $1.196 trillion. It's followed by Medicare at $766 billion and Medicaid at $571 billion.

Social Security costs are 100% covered by payroll taxes and interest on investments. There was more coming into the Social Security Trust Fund than was being paid out until 2010. The Trust Fund is still running a surplus, thanks to its investments.

Important

The Social Security Board of Trustees estimates that Social Security's Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034. Social Security revenue from payroll taxes and interest earned will cover only 78% of the benefits promised to retirees.

Medicare is already underfunded because taxes withheld for the program don't pay for all benefits. Congress must use tax dollars to pay for a portion of it. Medicaid is 100% funded by the general fund, also known as "America's Checkbook." This account is used to finance daily activities and long-term operations of the government.

Discretionary Spending

The discretionary budget for 2022 is $1.688 trillion. Much of it goes toward military spending, including Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other defense-related departments. The rest must pay for all other domestic programs. The largest of these programs are Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.

The Overseas Contingency Operations fund has historically paid for wars or continuing military actions. A growing portion of the discretionary budget is set aside for disaster relief, such as hurricane and wildfire relief.

Military Spending

Military spending is included in the budget under discretionary spending. The biggest expense for the military is the Department of Defense base budget, estimated at $715 billion.

Note

Budget requests for costs related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been listed separately in the Overseas Contingency Operations request since 2001. The FY 2022 budget is the first year in which these costs are included in the base budget request.

Military spending includes the Departments of Homeland Security, State, and Veterans Affairs. All of these military costs combined equal $752.9 billion.

The Deficit

The budget deficit is estimated at $1.873 trillion. That's the difference between $4.174 trillion in revenue and $6.011 trillion in spending. This shortfall is added to the existing national debt.

Each president and their administration are credited or blamed for increases in national debt due to the budgets their administration proposes. Approval of the budgets is delegated to Congress. The president alone doesn't bear the burden of deficit creation and national debt generation. Other elected officials do as well.

How the Deficit Contributes to the National Debt

The deficit adds to the U.S. debt each year. The government issues securities such as Treasury notes, which are purchased by many investors, to raise funds to cover the deficit. Japan and China are two countries whose governments "own" significant amounts of U.S. debt.

An anticipated budget deficit can slow economic growth. It influences rising interest rates as investors demand more return. Investors may eventually become hesitant to purchase Treasury notes because they fear that he U.S. government may not be able to repay the debt.

The Budget Process

Congress created the budget process in 1974. The process is supposed to follow four steps:

  1. The Executive Office of Management and Budget prepares the budget.
  2. The president submits it to Congress on or before the first Monday in February.
  3. Congress responds with spending appropriation bills that go to the president by June 30.
  4. The president has 10 days to reply.

Congress has followed the budget process only twice since creating the FY 2010 budget. The process and deadlines within it have been ignored since that time due to political disagreements and government inefficiencies.

It signals a complete breakdown in the budget creation process if the government does shut down.

The hard deadline for budget approval is December 3. The government can shut down if Congress doesn't approve it by then. This happened in 2013, in January 2018, and in December 2018. The December shutdown was the longest to date, lasting 35 days from December 21, 2018 through January 25, 2019. Congress usually passes continuing resolutions and stopgap measures to avoid shutdowns.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the main goal in creating the federal budget?

The federal budget sets government spending priorities and identifies the sources of revenue it will use to pay for those priorities. It's a key tool for executing the agenda of a given administration, and the process is designed to facilitate cooperation between the White House and Congress in setting these priorities. Often, however, it becomes a source of partisan gridlock.

How does the federal government finance a budget deficit?

The government finances its debt by selling its Treasury notes, bills, and bonds to a variety of creditors, such as state and local governments, corporations, and foreign governments. This increases the national debt that the federal government must pay back over time.

When was the last time the federal budget was balanced?

The last time the federal budget was balanced was in 2001, when there was actually a surplus.