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Understanding The US Government Budget - Mandatory vs. Discretionary Spending

Updated on June 24, 2011

The US Budget

When you turn on the TV these days all you hear is a garble of sound bites. "Cut the deficit!" "Entitlements are ruining the budget!" We are all being blasted from both sides of the political spectrum and it's becoming harder and harder to sort out just what everyone is saying. It's shameful too that voters actually get out and vote without even fully understanding the platforms candidates are running on. That's why we all must study up and learn some of the facts associated with the US Government Budget so that we can all make more informed choices.

Discretionary vs. Mandatory Government Spending

Mandatory Spending

The first thing that must be understood about the budget is that it consists of 2 types of spending. The first category we'll address is called Mandatory spending. This is the type of spending that as the title implies is mandatory. Why is it mandatory? Well, it has been written into law that certain parts of the government must be provided for in the budget every year. Such programs include social security and medicare and medicaid. Social security and medicare and medicaid make up roughly half of the US Government's Budget as of 2010 as they have for the last several years. Another key component of mandatory spending is paying of the country's national debt interest. Currently this accounts for 5% of the of the budget each year. Finally there are also entitlement programs to take into account. The most important being pay for government workers including pensions and insurance. 

Discretionary Spending

This is everything else. Discretionary Spending includes things like the education budget and Military. However, even thought the military is considered discretionary because it is not written into law that the military must be funded, it is however impossible to have a modern nation without  a yearly military budget. Other things such as federal infrastructure projects and other government programs including pork spending attached by congress also fall under this category of spending. 


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    • vaguesan profile image

      vaguesan 7 years ago from Osaka, Japan

      Well if you look at this information you can see that actually there is not much anyone can change in the budget. The majority of it is made up of military and mandatory spending. If you cut mandatory spending, you end up with a huge amount of pissed off elderly people who will end up going hungry on the streets. If you drop military spending some will scream that we are sacrificing our military power. There is in reality little that can be touched in the budget. :(

    • trimar7 profile image

      trimar7 7 years ago from New York

      Is there such a thing as understanding spending in this government in the past few years?