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When the US federal government spends money, expenses are officially categorized in three different ways.
Discretionary spending includes nearly everything we think of related to government– the US military, Air Force One, the Department of Homeland Security, TSA agents who sexually assault passengers, etc.
Mandatory spending includes entitlements like Medicare, Social Security, VA benefits, etc. which are REQUIRED by law to be paid.
The final category is interest on the debt. It is non-negotiable.
Mandatory spending and debt interest go out the door automatically. It’s like having your mortgage payment autodrafted from your bank account– Congress doesn’t even see the money, it’s automatically deducted.
In Fiscal Year 2011, the federal government collected $2.303 trillion in tax revenue. Interest on the debt that year totaled $454.4 billion, and mandatory spending totaled $2,025 billion. In sum, mandatory spending plus debt interest totaled $2.479 trillion… exceeding total revenue by $176.4 billion.
For Fiscal Year 2012 which just ended 37 days ago, that shortfall increased 43% to $251.8 billion.
In other words, they could cut the entirety of the Federal Government’s discretionary budget– no more military, SEC, FBI, EPA, TSA, DHS, IRS, etc.– and they would still be in the hole by a quarter of a trillion dollars.