Bring it back to basics: The federal budget.


We’ve explored 45’s proposed budget cuts to federal agencies like the EPA and the NEA. Today our #DailyRevolution is to get back to the basics on the federal budget process, to make damn sure that we’re ready when lawmakers start divvying up funding for programs that we care about next week.

Typically, a president proposes their budget to Congress around early February. The budget is a wish list, a picture of where the president wants Congress to spend federal dollars. This year the ‘President’s budget’ was released March 16, finally giving us a look into 45’s proposed federal spending plan: rolling back progress on climate change, and targeting programs serving rural and low-income Americans, while spending our tax dollars to build his wall. We are clearly seeing what 45’s vision for government really is.

But as we said way back in March, the President’s budget is “just a guiding document — not the final budget controlling federal agency spending.”

So, how much $$ are we really talking about here?

The federal budget was $3.8 trillion in fiscal year 2015. Most of this total is “mandatory spending” — funding for programs required by law, like the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and the interest on the national debt. Mandatory spending makes up approximately 71% of the annual budget. The only way to change this amount is by changing the programs themselves (like Republicans just tried to do with Obamacare repeal).

The rest is “discretionary spending” and is decided by Congress through the appropriations process, and includes funding for all other federal programs (everything we’ve been talking about so far in our prior budget series posts). 45’s budget for fiscal year 2018 was $1.15 trillion, and dealt solely with this discretionary spending, 28% of the total federal budget.  But thanks to our good ol’ system of checks and balances, only Congress can allocate U.S. funds to be spent. Lawmakers can pretty much ignore the President’s budget (as they often did to Obama), and work to pass their own budget resolution, which will become the guide for the next step of the budget process: appropriations.

The negotiations of this funding appropriations process has been on a slowburn for months, but when Congress gets back next week, 12 House committees are supposed to pass 12 individual budget bills, voting on the portions of the federal budget that they oversee. This means a lot of votes, and a lot of opportunities to remind lawmakers what they should be prioritizing.

Stay tuned for Budget Basics 201 on Sunday, when we’ll be diving into those bills, and arming you with information so that when Congress gets back to D.C. next week, we’ll be ready to flood the phone lines to protect some of America’s most vital governmental programs.


Suggested Reading

How the Federal budget is Supposed to Work and Why it Rarely Does - The MinnPost (2015)

Don’t Worry About the President’s Budget Proposal - The Oakland Press

Suggested Viewing

Federal Budget 101 from National Priorities