US Budget for Dummies
July 12, 2011 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me better understand the US budget?

Time-and-time again, the budget is an issue that receives an enormous amount of media coverage. To me, the quality of the coverage is diminished by the use of jargon and descriptions of procedures that I am not clear about or aware of. It is a little like starting to watch a movie that is half over.

I am interested in better understanding the basics. I have done a bit of research (googling, for example, "primer on the us budget") and looking up some information at the OMB website. On one hand, I am not sure I know how to filter the noise from the signal and on the other the depth/breadth is too much.

My question boils down to, "What reader-friendly information do you know of that helps explain the budget and/or budget process?"

Secondarily, "what about the budget (as a topic generally, not necessarily "process" related) do you think that Americans need to/should know about?"
posted by Hypnotic Chick to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
People need to know: How much money is spent where. Too many people think that cutting foreign aid would be a meaningful step on the way towards fiscal responsibility.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:59 PM on July 12, 2011

Wikipedia is not a bad place to start:For a more official source, the Congressional Research Service makes excellent reports, which are in the public domain, but for political reasons are not available through an official web site. Their report on The FY2011 Federal Budget is detailed, yet fairly succinct for a government policy document at a mere 23 pages, and is chock-full of footnotes that reference other instructive documents from the CRS, the Congressional Budget Office, and other places. You are likely to be able to find the other CRS reports mentioned within just by Googling for their titles.
posted by grouse at 3:12 PM on July 12, 2011

Try this:

And the agency process:

While you probably don't need to worry about OMB passback and crosswalk, or budget execution (my least favorite part, by far), the first link will serve you well.
posted by jgirl at 3:16 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another way to understand the budget is to understand how your tax dollars are spent. The White House has a good website for this called Your 2010 Federal Taxpayer Receipt.
posted by jchaw at 4:07 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Death and Taxes: 2011
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2011

There's a long-term fiscal problem, mostly due to rising health care costs, which will require tax increases. See the lower graph ("alternative fiscal scenario") on page 6 of the Congressional Budget Office's 2011 long-term budget outlook: it shows how Social Security, health-care spending, all other spending, and tax revenues are expected to change over time. What should the US do? Paul Krugman: hold off on fiscal austerity until unemployment drops enough that the central bank starts raising interest rates.
posted by russilwvong at 4:58 PM on July 12, 2011

Here's a quicker route to the CBO graph: a Baseline Scenario blog post.
posted by russilwvong at 5:00 PM on July 12, 2011

Seconding the Death and Taxes poster, of which I own the 2010 version. Fascinating.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:06 PM on July 12, 2011

Here is another wikipedia page that's a little more in-depth about the 2010 year. Some eye opening numbers. Especially when you consider that federal non-borrowed revenue is many hundreds of billions less than spending.
posted by gjc at 6:46 PM on July 12, 2011

Thank you everyone! I'll be checking back on this question periodically, so feel free to respond if you aren't here already!
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 6:02 AM on July 13, 2011

I like this NYT graphic for visualizing how spending is divided up.
posted by doctord at 8:03 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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