Here’s How the Federal Government Spent $4 Trillion in Taxpayer Dollars in 2017
Another year, another dollar squandered by a wasteful federal government. The Congressional Budget Office has released figures pertaining to the 2017 Federal Budget and it’s pretty clear that the government still hasn’t figured out how to manage its finances appropriately. Lawmakers in Washington spent a staggering $4 trilllion in taxpayer dollars on programs many American never even use. Unfortunately, total annual revenue didn’t keep pace.
President Donald Trump released a 2019 federal budget he believes would help balance the checkbook and put some money back in the average American’s pocket. But who knows how much of that will get approved. Until then, we can all stare agape at the figures tied to the government’s lavish spending habits.
Where did the money go? Ahead, we’ll discuss the U.S. government’s costliest expenses — including the 1 thing that costs the government nearly $1 trillion every year (page 6) — as well as the revenue earned thanks to your tax dollars. Hint: the numbers don’t add up.
- $375 billion
The federal budget can be broken down into two categories: mandatory spending (benefit programs like Medicaid and Medicare) and discretionary spending (programs like defense, transportation, and education). Mandatory spending equates to a bigger chunk of the pie thanks to costly programs like Medicaid. The $375 billion spent on this health care program totaled 2% of gross domestic product. Spending has nearly doubled over the last 10 years thanks to increased reliance on this program.
Next: The government spent billions on this program, but that’s nothing compared to future spending.
5. National defense
- $590 billion
Most of the $590 billion spent on defense funded operation and maintenance procedures as well as military personnel. National defense expenses accounted for nearly half of all discretionary spending in 2017 and 3.1% of gross domestic product. Though this is much less than the 2012 budget (it reached 4.2% of GDP that year), the president has requested a 13% increase in spending in 2019, totaling $686 billion, which he hopes to fund using major cuts to the next program on this list.
Next: More money tied to healthcare
- $591 billion
The CBO’s analysis of the president’s 2019 budget notes the biggest goal is to reduce nondefense spending. Reductions in Medicare spending is a huge part of that. Graphs show Medicare was one of the biggest sources of taxpayer-funded expenses in 2017 at 3.1% of GDP.
Moving forward, the government predicts a 7.1% cut to Medicare by 2028 by reforming payments to providers and reducing wasteful treatment. Whether this puts money back in taxpayers’ pockets or limits access to healthcare remains to be seen.
Next: Extravagant spending on “optional” programs
3. Nondefense related government programs
- $610 billion
A staggering $610 billion was spent on what the White House labels as “nondefense” discretionary spending on programs implemented through appropriations bills. This includes optional programs related to transportation, education, veterans’ benefits, health, and housing assistance. Transportation costs equaled $93 billion of that total, though Trump’s 2019 budget calls for a 28.6% cut in the coming years.
Other sizable expenses were gifted to programs relating to the environment, science, space, and technology — roughly $120 billion in total. This is also up for debate under the newly proposed budget, as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation are all programs on the federal budget chopping block.
Next: Here’s what the government deems “mandatory” spending
2. Other mandatory government programs
- $614 billion
An additional $614 billion was spent on other programs the CBO deems “mandatory” under a category officially labeled as “other.” This includes income support programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ($70 billion), unemployment compensation ($31 billion) and federal and civilian retirement ($163 billion). The SNAP program, for example, is one of the few programs whose spending level has stayed consistent year-over-year, though the 2019 budget requested a 30% cut over the next ten years.
Next: The largest expense tied to the federal budget
1. Social Security
- $939 billion
Money the government spent on Social Security in 2017 just about equals what it cost to fund all major health care programs combined. By far, taxpayers are footing the bill for Social Security more than any other governmental program. And 2018 changes to Social Security — including a higher tax cap on wealthier Americans — just means expenses incurred on both sides aren’t likely to cease anytime soon. A hefty $939 billion Social Security bill represents almost 5% of GDP, a 0.6% increase over the last 10 years.
Next: Of course, we can’t forget about this one costly expense
Net interest on spending
- $263 billion
Another large chunk of government spending pertains to the interest it pays on debts. The year 2017 racked up a whopping $263 billion in interest, which is actually on the low side historically. This may seem like good news, but the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) predicts interest payments will soon quadruple given larger debts and higher interest rates. They estimate the government would be spending $965 billion, or 3.3% of GDP by 2028.
Next: How much did the government earn in 2017? And how far in debt are we?
Total 2017 revenue
- $3.3 trillion
With spending topping $4 trillion and revenue only reaching $3.3 trillion, something has got to give. The American government ended 2017 $700 billion in the hole, and this is only expected to rise as the years tick by. Top lawmakers have taxpayers to thank for earning any money at all. Roughly $1.6 trillion came from individual income taxes. The remaining trillions came from payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and other taxes and duties.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.
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