An exercise to help wrap the mind around the federal budget

by Mary Ann McGivern

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

It is difficult for most of us to maintain a sense of all the elements of the federal budget. We spent about $3.5 trillion in the last fiscal year. That's a difficult amount to get one's head around.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, we spent $1.2 trillion in the last 10 years in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, in 2011, we spent $725 billion on Social Security and $740 billion on the Defense Department. However, defense spending does not include another $10 billion or so spent by the Department of Energy on maintaining our nuclear arsenal, $48 billion for Homeland Security or $141 billion in Veterans Affairs expenditures, chiefly the cost of caring for our wounded soldiers, bringing the total to $949 billion. Interest on our debt totaled about a quarter of a trillion dollars. The dollars do add up.

Slate conducted a poll on measures to reduce the deficit and pay down the debt. It is a useful exercise to help us think through these issues. However, I could not successfully reduce the budget within Slate's limits. I would have doubled the defense cuts instead of accepting some of Slate's options. Actually, my preferred cuts would be a lot deeper than that. That's why the Slate poll is useful. It helps us grasp what we are all hearing and trying to talk about.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters