I got curious the other day about a very simple question: How much does the federal government collect in taxes each year, and from what sources, and how does it spend its money? After some casting about on Google, I found this helpful graphic, courtesy of The Washington Post. The original article has other strong graphics as well, and you can find it here. (When you get there, click on the tabs above this graphic to get access to the other graphics.)
The illustration depicts the FY2011 budget as proposed by President Obama. It didn’t fall out exactly this way, of course, but directionally, the graphic gives a good idea of where our taxes are levied and where the proceeds go.
Included in the category of “mandatory other spending” are things like Food Stamps, Unemployment Compensation, Child Nutrition and Tax Credits, Supplemental Security for the Disabled and Student Loans. Some of the items in other discretionary are Health and Human Services at about $84 billion, Transportation at $76 billion, Education at $47 billion, Housing and Urban Development at $44 billion, and Agriculture at $25 billion.
So the question to you, Mr. and Ms. Citizen, is how would you eliminate that $1.27 trillion deficit, which is just a little lower than the so-called “discretionary spending” made up of the defense budget and other discretionary categories? I’m sure there’s some waste and inefficiency that can be addressed; no one has tackled that issue seriously since Al Gore when he was vice president. Let’s assume you can find $50 billion to $100 billion of waste. That still leaves a large gap to be closed. If you’re close to retirement, are you willing to reduce your Social Security and Medicare benefits?
Do you want to redefine the role of the U.S. military and intelligence communities so we can shrink the defense budget significantly? (Here is a good argument for your case if that’s the path you choose.)
Or, on the other side of the ledger, would you be willing to pay more in taxes to help close the gap? Or do you want to see corporations pay more? Or some other group?
I’m going to think more about these questions and weigh in with my own representatives. I’d like to see some of you do the same and share your ideas here. I’ve been preaching lately that we all need to take a more active role in our government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Here’s a potentially meaningful way for you to do so.