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Where your tax dollars really go

Donald Trump claims that America spends too much on things like food stamps, welfare, and foreign aid.


Robert Reich
August 1, 2019 10:30AM (UTC)
This originally appeared on Robert Reich's blog.

Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress claim that America spends too much on things like food stamps, welfare, and foreign aid.

But let’s look at how the government actually spends your federal tax dollars each year. We’re going to look at what’s known as the “discretionary budget,” which has to be reappropriated by Congress each year.

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Start with foreign aid, the conservatives’ favorite boogeyman. It’s $29 billion a year. That may sound like a lot but it’s only 2 percent of all discretionary spending. Add all spending on international affairs, it’s 4 percent.

What about science and technology, including NASA, the National Science Foundation, and research in clean energy, which conservatives love to hate? Just 3 percent.

The environment and natural resources — money for clean air, safe drinking water and protecting public lands? Another 3 percent.

Roads, bridges, highways, airports, all transportation funding: Another 3 percent.

Community and regional development: 2 percent.

Law enforcement, the Department of Justice, the entire federal court system: 5 percent

The Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and rural health clinics: 5 percent.

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Food stamps, energy assistance, child care, other income security: Just 6 percent.

Education and workforce training gets just 7 percent.

Veterans benefits account for 7 percent of the budget as well.

All other government services — including Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce — account for only 1 percent of the discretionary budget.

But that’s only 46 percent. The remaining 54 percent of annual spending is on the militarywhich is more spent on the military than the next 7 nations combined. It’s huge. It’s about the only really big thing the federal government does.

You may be thinking, but what about Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act?

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By law, these programs are mandatory spending, which don’t require Congress to approve funding every year. Americans have paid into Social Security and Medicare over their entire working lives.

Yet they’re still vulnerable. In fact, if Trump and Republicans in Congress aren’t going to cut discretionary spending — especially on the military — the only places they can look to make way for more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

That’s been their goal all along.

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Know where the money is really going. And know what they have in mind.


Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 15 books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's also co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism."

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