Death and Taxes 2011: Visual Guide to the Federal Budget

The 2011 edition of the Death and Taxes poster is out, which outlines in spectacular detail how the United States federal budget spends its (your?) tax dollars. View the huge image online, or buy it as a 2 ft. x 3 ft poster. If you haven’t seen it before, you really should check it out.

Due to what the creator deems complexity and size constraints, the poster focuses on the $1 Trillion discretionary portion of the budget. Discretionary spending refers to the portion of the budget which goes through the annual Congressional debates every year, and amounts to about 1/3rd of the total budget. Currently, the biggest chunk goes to defense spending. Want to know how much the V-22 Osprey gets? It’s on the poster ($2.2B).

The other 2/3rds of the federal budget is mandatory spending, which includes programs which are funded by eligibility rules or payment rules. An example is welfare. If you’re eligible, you get it. The only way to change how much is spent is by changing the eligibility rules.

The poster does include a little chart on the bottom right about the total federal budget, but I think it tries to convey too much information in a very small space. Here’s a simpler breakdown from the 2007 budget, courtesy of PerotCharts. As you can see, entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare are also huge expenses.

And here’s another breakdown of the 2009 total spending via Wikipedia.

As long as take all of this into perspective, this graphic does a great job of making a complex subject accessible. Not sure how long this will last, but right now with code BOGO you can get two posters for $24 + $1.50 shipping.

Comments

  1. Why the question mark on “your?” tax dollars. Too many in goverment think that tax revenues belong to the government. It’s our money. We earn it. And about 40 percent goes to federal, state and local taxes.

  2. Mickey Blue Eyes says:

    Ditto what Steve said. The question mark should be an exclamation point.

    What really offends me is that non-Constitutional spending is considered “mandatory” where as (arguably) Constitutional spending is considered “discretionary” (aka “optional”?). With the exception of veteran and retired military benefits, everything in the “mandatory” column is, IMHO, not permitted under the Constitution. I am willing to make exceptions for military folks because national defense is a Constitutional duty of the federal gov’t, and those that join the military make sacrifices that are greater than those in the private sector.

  3. Baughman says:

    The question mark is because half US citizens pay no income tax; Your should be replaced by “Their” in that case; http://finance.yahoo.com/news/.....0&.v=1

  4. Most of us won’t benefit from social security/medicare/medicaid at all in our lifetime…

  5. Thanks. Does somebody publish an easily digested set of financial statements for our government. Maybe it’s at whitehouse.gov?

    1) Income Statement
    The visual guide you refer to only looks at the expense side, right? How much “revenue” does the U.S. government pull in?

    2) Balance Sheet
    How much debt do we really have?

    3) Cash Flow Statement

    All the pundits and politicians talk about deficits, but you never get the whole picture.

  6. I think we are already benefiting from social security in that my grandmothers doesn’t have to eat catfood or bankrupt the rest of the family with her medical bills, which no for-profit insurer would touch.

    But yeah, if you are looking to get your own personal money back, that’s up for debate, but I certainly am not including SS in my retirement portfolio.

    And to the consitutionanl folks, it get what your saying, but it’s hard to adhere to the budgetary constraints of 200 year old document written for a populace of 3 million. Now we have 300 million, its a bit naive to think that bureaucracy can or should remain at minimal levels.

  7. It’s naive to think you will definitely get 100% of your social security money back, but ignorant to think that you will get 0%. Nobody knows where our country will be in 20,30,40 years, but it would be foolish to completely ignore this money in any retirement portfolio.

    People need to remember that the government is our government. When they spend money they are spending your money on you. You might not agree with how to spend it (I think there should be less money for bombers and to subsidize wealthy oil companies, you may think there should be less government programs for poor people) but it’s theoretically being spent on you. You can move and choose a new government if you don’t like how your government spends your money.
    I never understand when people talk about constitution this, constitution that. Much like the bible it’s a very old document with some good ideas and plenty of bad ones. It’s not always clear who is best to make current decisions for our country but it doesn’t take a genius to see that people that have been dead for 200+ years are ill equipped. Maybe the constitution can be the starting ground for a conversation, but for too many people lately they take it as if it is the one and only truth.

  8. copland98 says:

    I am now 40, and I am willing to bet I would get upwards of 75% of my SS at retirement. I wouldn’t mind if they took 25% of it an put it towards education. I am more worried about the education system then anything else. we can’t compete without a good education system.

  9. If you believe in Rule of Law, then the Constitution is the framework for how our country should run, it puts strict limits on the the scope of the government. It provides a way to change it – but if you don’t have the political will to change it, then you are bound by it.

    Ignoring the foundation of law is a slippery slope that eventually leads to all out corruption.

  10. “Ignoring the foundation of law is a slippery slope that eventually leads to all out corruption.”

    Proof? My knowledge of history has told me that all out corruption nearly always happens when people put too much faith in one person, one religion, one media source, one document, or one book, and fail to educate themselves and use their own common sense and modern reasoning.

    Now if the constitution could be used to eliminate the ridiculous role of money in our politics then I’d be all for it, but the Supreme Court just ruled that the constitution says that free speech means corporations can decide elections with their pocketbooks.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01.....cotus.html

    When 5 out of 9 people in our world get to decide that businesses with billions of dollars get free reign to spend whatever money they want to influence uneducated voters in the name of free speech then maybe ya ought to stop and think and realize that the constitution is now protecting big business at the expense of its ordinary hard working citizens.

  11. I think we are already benefiting from social security in that my grandmothers doesn’t have to eat catfood or bankrupt the rest of the family with her medical bills, which no for-profit insurer would touch.

    Boy, my grandparents have been living in a retirement community for about 15 years and recently had to move into the assisted living ward. Price for the two of them–almost $7000 a month. Thank god they were planners and savers, because nothing they would get from social security would touch that. On my other side, my grandfather died fairly young (never seeing a penny of his social security) and my grandmother lived to 90, again, having to live in a assisted care area thanks to health problems. By the time she died, she was having to pay $4500 a month. Again thank god they were savers.

    I don’t live in a particularly highprice area, so I imagine I would be shocked to see prices for retirees in e.g. NYC or California. I shudder to think of what it will cost me in 40-50 years. Also shudder to think what’s going to happen to the generation of “debt is good!”

  12. StL Pastor says:

    No one ignores the foundation of our law (the Constitution). There is a 200 year history of jurisprudence exploring how to interpret the text, and a continual discussion of how to balance its various phrases. If Social Security was obviously unconstitutional, it would not exist. Just because you think the 10th amendment means the Government can’t do anything other than fight wars doesn’t mean that the constitution prohibits taxing and spending to promote the general welfare. I don’t think the constitution is perfect or sacred either, but we do follow it pretty well.

  13. What really offends me is that non-Constitutional spending is considered “mandatory” where as (arguably) Constitutional spending is considered “discretionary” (aka “optional”?). With the exception of veteran and retired military benefits, everything in the “mandatory” column is, IMHO, not permitted under the Constitution. I am willing to make exceptions for military folks because national defense is a Constitutional duty of the federal gov’t, and those that join the military make sacrifices that are greater than those in the private sector.

    Please show me where in the Constitution it provides for an Air Force. I can see how it authorizes an Army and a Navy, but for the life of me I can’t find the text permitting the US to have an Air Force…..

  14. Most of us won’t benefit from social security/medicare/medicaid at all in our lifetime…

    Really? You don’t have parents and/or grandparents who are on Social Security and Medicare and thus not having to come to you to pay their food, housing and medical bills? I’d say that alone counts as currently benefiting from it.

  15. We spend what we spend for two reasons:

    1. Americans have come to EXPECT many of those things that are now considered “mandatory spending”. They were not mandatory until the Depression because they were not federal programs and they were not things the federal government is empowered to do. They are mandatory for no other reason.

    2. Every dime that we spend in this country is authorized by Congress. So, if you have a problem with what is spent and how, it’s because Congress has allowed an organization to have those funds. Before you roast the military or call for a decrease in their funding because it’s not “necessary” you would do well to consider that a majority of 535 people in Washington gave them that money in the first place.

  16. Social Security is 20% of the budget but its FULLY paid for and will be for still some time to come. Yes, the money from SS was “borrowed” and spent already so it now looks like it comes out of the general budget but this is not the correct way at looking at it. With some minor changes the time span it will be fully funded can be pushed back many many years also.

  17. C-span website says: “MANDATORY SPENDING refers to funds not controlled by annual decision of Congress. These funds are automatically obligated by virtue of previously-enacted laws. ”

    Don’t read too much into the word “mandatory”. In the context of our govt. spending it basically means ‘automatic’ or ‘obligated’ and not much more.

    Mandatory vs. discretionary terms are NOT about priorities of spending.

  18. StL Pastor says:

    Douglas,
    I think you’re absolutely right, but I would offer one reframing-
    we spend what we do not because we expect benefits from our government, but because Americans have chosen (through the representative process, obviously) to participate in three huge collective insurance programs- a collective safety program (the military), collective insurance for when we cannot work (Social Security), medical insurance for the most expensive health care (Medicare), plus a smaller insurance program against catastrophic poverty (Food stamps, unemployment, and medicaid). I think this has been, so far, a pretty good plan by the American people.

  19. Altereggo says:

    Dave… Your reasoning is _very_ modern, and that wasn’t a compliment.
    Try reading up on some of the enlightenment thinkers who influenced the constitution. They saw and experienced much more than you give them credit for.
    My professors told me: “don’t pretend you understand constitutional government until you’ve read (at a minimum) Montesquieu, the Federalist Papers, Tocqueville, and Locke.”

    You’re thinking more along the lines of Jeremy Bentham and Marx…

  20. Dave,

    The purpose of the constitution is to limit the power of government and keep it “our government”. The more you allow government to chip away at the constitution, the less it becomes our government. It’s a very simple document and for good reason. It outlines the powers of government and anything left out is reserved for the states. Dismissing the document as being old is the strategy of those that wish to “fundamentally transform” our country into something it was never meant to be.

  21. Altereggo&Robert,

    What the original writers of the constitution meant is irrelevant since they are not around to defend their arguments. For instance the 2nd amendment is used to defend any use of guns. Perhaps the writers of the constitution would say “No, that’s crazy. We meant having guns to defend against the British. They aren’t intended to be used in the way you are using them now.” Similarily they might say that the 1st amendment was not supposed to mean big business should have the right to trump the rights of the citizen with billions of dollars to finance candidates. We don’t know. Supreme Court justices make decisions based on the constitution? That’s B.S. Their decisions should be based on what is best for our country and its citizens.
    If our constitution is so great, why hasn’t every other country in the world adopted our constitution? Our country ignores the poor, has a terrible trackrecord with minorities, still discriminates people based on sexual preference, has the least efficient health care system in the world, ships our jobs out to other countries at the expense of its citizens, and just contributed to a global market crash by our greed. I feel the constitution has failed to create a fair and equal society, and there are many people out there that would agree with me. I feel that the constitution is far more often used to defend positions that couldn’t be supported with other evidence.

  22. Dave: “What the original writers of the constituion meant is irrelevant since they are not around to defend their arguments.” How absurd. That also then means that Martin Luther King, JFK, FDR, Truman and any figure in history is irrelevant. You just want a case to re-write the document to serve your own purposes. Which is the reason for a constitution. Your interpretation of the 2nd amendment is incorrect. If you actually read what guys like Washington and Jefferson wrote, you’d know this. The recent Supreme Court decision was in line with the Constitution. Our law states that a corporation is an individual. So therefore, a corporation has 1st Admendment rights. Don’t agree. Work on changing the corporation laws, not the Constition. Why haven’t others adopted our constition? Some have come close, others not so. They should adopt their own, even so. Our country ignores the poor. Another absurd statement. We’ve spent trillions (with a T), both in governmend and private money. This country has done more, both for our own citizens and for others around the world. I could refute your other statements one by one, but I sense you are a socialist, who needs to have an equal outcome for everyone, instead of equal opportunity. You wish to squash success. I don’t know what you’ve learned in school and life, but it seems all wrong.

  23. Year-end tax planning could be especially productive this year because timely action can nail down a host of tax breaks that won’t be around next year unless Congress acts to extend them. These include, for individuals: the option to deduct state and local sales and use taxes instead of state income taxes; the standard or itemized deduction for state sales tax and excise tax on the purchase of motor vehicles; the above-the-line deduction for qualified higher education expenses; tax-free distributions by those age 70 1/2 or older from IRAs for charitable purposes; and the $8,000 first-time homebuyer credit (expires for purchases after Nov. 30, 2009). For businesses, tax breaks that are available through the end of this year but won’t be around next year unless Congress acts include: 50% bonus first year depreciation for most new machinery, equipment and software; an extraordinarily high $250,000 expensing limitation; the research tax credit; the five-year writeoff for most farm equipment; and the 15-year writeoff for qualified leasehold improvements, qualified restaurant buildings and improvements and qualified retail improvements. Finally, without Congressional “extender” legislation (which has come at the eleventh hour for several years), alternative minimum tax (AMT) exemption amounts for individuals are scheduled to drop drastically next year, and most nonrefundable personal credits won’t be available to offset the AMT.

  24. the tipping point is a lot earlier than U.S. budget depicts.

    I would say the tipping point is when 50% of the federal income (not federal budget) is gone to just interest payment. after that point interest payment will quickly overtake the entire federal income.

    assuming federal incoming stays at 2 trillion and we continue to rack up 1.5 trillion dollars of debt a year, we will hit the 50% threshold

    we will reach 50% threshold if

    1) at year 2024, if avg treasury interest rate is 3%
    2) at year 2016, if avg treasury interest rate is 5%

Speak Your Mind

*