Understanding US Federal Spend

With the election coming up, I thought it might be helpful when listening to various candidates plans to understand what the federal government currently spends money on. My intent is that this be a non-partisan write up, I’m not trying to prove any agenda. Instead I am trying to help everyone understand where the money goes. I will ask forgiveness when I use the wrong term, many of the descriptors of these spend categories are politically loaded, but I am going to try to be as clear as I can what is in what bucket.  It’s also worth noting that in general this profile of spend is pretty hard to change, every line item has some constituting that values it, and will fight hard to maintain it.
There are two big categories of spending, mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory spending happens each year in the absence of a vote from congress to change it, while discretionary spending requires a vote each year to authorize it. Mandatory spending makes up about 2/3 of the budget, the largest programs in the mandatory bucket are Social Security and Medicare, the largest program in discretionary is defense.
Total Federal spend last year was about $3.5 Trillion. I took the liberty of collapsing a couple of the major spend categories together (A number of them are quite small, I put them all in “Other”), this left me with four big buckets Human Resources, Defense Spending, Other, and Debt Service. I also moved the VA from Human Resources to Defense (which of course you can argue about). 
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570 Medicare speaks for itself, but it’s worth knowing that the 550 Health category is primarily Medicaid (and the funding for the CDC, FDA). If you are trying to remember the differences between them Medicare is for the elderly but Medicaid is for low income individuals. 600 Income Security is about 60% what some people would call “welfare” (Food, housing, and income assistance for low income individuals), about 10% unemployment insurance, and the balance is pensions for federal employees.
150 International Affairs is about half aid to other countries, and about half “Security & Conducting Foreign Affairs”. 250 General Science, Space, Technology is approximately half NASA, and half general sciences funding. 270 Energy and 350 Agriculture are things some people would call “corporate welfare”, essentially payments directly to certain industries without receiving goods or services in exchange.
370 Housing and Commerce Credit includes the FHA, as well as the operation of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, & Ginnie Mae (Which is why this category can sometimes produce rather than consume money, this is a collection of government run business). The postal service is also in here (and ran a surplus last year), as is the FDIC, the SEC, the FCC, and the FTC.

Information - Excellent stuff, ChrisPayne.


Thanks man. Not sure if anyone is interested in this stuff, but it will at least help to educate a voter or two. If anyone has any questions for me on how different pieces of the budget work I am happy to field them.

IN Phone Post 3.0

Information - If people truly understood how the Federal government appropriates, obligates and expends money there would be something close to a revolution.

The amount of inefficiency, graft and outright [legal] corruption is breathtaking.
'Ron Paul Revolution' but that shit was cock blocked by the status quo. Phone Post 3.0

Information - I don't know if there are any good resources on this, but I'd love to see figures on aged unobligated Appropriations. Not current O&M/G&A, but multi-year and no-year funds. Especially in grant-making agencies.

Sure, Congress can pull those Appropriations back. Sometimes they do. But I've heard stories from people in small agencies talk about obligating no year funds from 10 years ago. 10 years!

I'm not sure I understand, are you talking on agencies sitting on funds that were appropriate but not obligated for some long period of time? Sort of a slush fund for an agency?

The data I used to create the graphs above came from the white house OMB historical tables: https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals

I have never seen a data source on that. I suspect that at least for the big dollar programs (everything in Human Resources and Defense) they spend almost all or all of the appropriations, but I would be interested to see some sort of break down.

Social Security and Medicare are a little funny because they both have a specific tax, but by law the "surplus" can only be invested in government issue debt, which then goes back to fund other underfunded programs. In a way it's just the case that a portion of the Social Security tax is misnamed, and happens to be a tax for general revenue.

Its all so grossly mismanaged no wonder there is so much corruption

Good on you OP but the vast majority are ignorant of this and have no desire to learn.

I'd estimate that maybe 1 out of 100 voters could draw a reasonably accurate pie chart depicting the federal budget. Phone Post 3.0