by Rady Ananda / April 26th, 2010
Recently, Live Science published a chart showing
that the US spends about one-fifth of its budget on the military. But
this aggregate view hides how Congress prioritizes spending, when you
consider what is discretionary and voted upon each year. A more salient
view of these figures segregates ‘discretionary’ spending from
‘mandatory’ spending. During the severe economic downturn of the past
two years, how has Congress prioritized spending?
When it comes to discretionary spending, Congress gives 58% to the
military. Here are US budget charts for the years 2009 and 2010,
according to the National Priorities Project (NPP):
NPP describes these charts this way, explaining the difference between ‘mandatory’ and ‘discretionary’ spending:
[These charts show] the breakdown of the proposed federal discretionary budget for fiscal year 2010 [or 2009] by function area.
The discretionary budget refers to the part of the federal budget
proposed by the President, and debated and decided by Congress each
year. The part of the budget constitutes more than one-third of total
federal spending. The remainder of the federal budget is called
‘mandatory spending.’ Fiscal Year 2009 will run from October 1, 2008 to
September 30, 2009.
Note that this chart includes the war-related spending requested by
the administration as supplemental to the regular budget proposal.
Note, too, per NPP:
Federal Discretionary and Mandatory Spending
Congress directly sets the level of spending on programs
which are discretionary. Congress can choose to increase or decrease
spending on any of those programs in a given year….
About half of the discretionary budget is ‘national defense,’ a
government-defined function area that roughly corresponds in common
parlance as ‘military.’ However, this category does not include foreign
military financing, security assistance, and other programs commonly
thought of as military. Other types of discretionary spending include
the budget for education, many health programs, and housing assistance.
Mandatory spending includes programs, mostly entitlement
programs, which are funded by eligibility rules or payment rules.
Congress decides to create a program, for example, Food Stamps. It then
determines who is eligible for the program and any other criteria it
may want to lay out. How much is appropriated for the program each year
is then determined by estimations of how many people will be eligible
and apply for Food Stamps.
Unlike discretionary spending, the Congress does not decide each
year to increase or decrease the Food Stamp budget; instead, it
periodically reviews the eligibility rules and may change them in order
to exclude or include more people.
Mandatory spending makes up about two-thirds of the total federal
budget. By far the largest mandatory program is Social Security which
makes up one-third of mandatory spending and continues to grow as the
age demographic of the country shifts towards an older population. [See
more at National Priorities Project.]
Also see discussion at “How Are Our Federal Tax Dollars Spent?” which shows that, in the aggregate, the military budget is one-fifth (21%) of our budget:
But, which is the more realistic view of military spending? Which
captures how Congress prioritizes spending? Which is more relevant to
Arguably, discretionary spending is most relevant to ordinary
citizens, as we continue to suffer under rising unemployment, increased
foreclosures, bankster bailouts, million dollar industry bonuses while
the minimum wage remains below poverty, all amid a global financial
And what does that 58% of discretionary spending amount to? In 2010: $1,027.8 billion, or over a trillion dollars, according to Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute.
Ananda began blogging in 2004. Her work has appeared in several online
and print publications, including three books on election fraud. Most
of her career was spent working for lawyers in research, investigations
and as a paralegal. She graduated from The Ohio State University’s
School of Agriculture with a B.S. in Natural Resources. Read other articles by Rady.