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Budget Basics: President’s Budget Request

Budget 2017

by Kathy Crandall Robinson, WAND Senior Policy Director

WAND believes that the federal budget is not just a set of numbers, but also a fundamental reflection of our nation’s values, hopes, and priorities. The President released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget Request on February 9.

Budget Number Basics:

The Overall Federal Budget: $4.2 trillion

Mandatory Spending: $2.78 trillion (66%)

Interest on Debt: $303 billion (7%)

Discretionary Spending: $1.15 trillion (27%)

Non-Defense Discretionary Portion: $540 Billion (47% of discretionary spending)

Pentagon Spending Portion*: $610 Billion (53% of discretionary spending)

(*The O50 Defense Budget function including Department of Defense, Nuclear Weapons, and War spending. See more details below)

Budget Terms Basics:

Mandatory Spending: $2.78 trillion (66%)

Mandatory spending funds programs that Congress has already established with authorization laws. These laws establish federal programs and mandate that Congress provide funds needed to keep the programs running. In order to change funding for these programs, Congress must change the authorization law itself. Much of this spending is on earned benefits programs (some call it “entitlement spending”) such as Social Security, Medicare, and pension programs.

Interest on Debt: $303 billion (7%)

Under the President’s budget plan, the national debt and interest on this debt will grow in coming years. (This is a notable concern for many Congressional fiscal hawks such as Republican Budget Committee leaders in the House and Senate.)

Discretionary Spending: $1.15 trillion (27%)

Discretionary spending is the portion of the budget that Congress considers each year in the appropriation process – deciding how much will be appropriated to each priority function of the government.

Dividing Up Discretionary Spending:

Pentagon Spending Portion*: $610Billion (53% of discretionary spending)

Once again over half of the discretionary budget goes to Pentagon spending, including spending on wars and nuclear weapons. This is the spending in what is called the defense budget function 050. Note that it does not include spending on veterans, much of homeland security, and nothing on international affairs spending. (Note that some other budget charts include foreign military aid in the State Department budget as part of defense or Pentagon spending. Indeed, this makes sense, but in the Congressional budget process it is considered non-defense spending.)

Everything else: $540 Billion (47% of discretionary spending)

All other programs including education, infrastructure, health care, homeland security, veterans, foreign aid, and more make up the remaining 47% of the discretionary budget. Approximately one third of this funding flows to the states where it is an essential component of state budgeting decisions.

Budget Deal:

In 2015 Congress set overall discretionary spending caps for defense (what is called Pentagon spending here) and non-defense (everything else). The President’s Budget Request largely keeps these budget caps, but a wild card is the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) war spending slush fund described further below.

Two Key Elements of the Pentagon Spending Debate This Year  

War Spending Slush Fund

Included in Pentagon spending is the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) war spending slush fund. The President’s request is for $59 billion. Many in Congress want to add more. This is money not subject to the budget caps agreed to by Congress. We’re seeing more and more things that used to be in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) base budget migrate to this special fund — even if they have no direct connection to current combat efforts. By the way, this extra $59 billion for the Pentagon is more than many federal agencies’ entire budgets. In fact, in terms of spending it would come in as the fifth most costly federal agency in the government.

Nuclear Overspending on Overkill

We are poised to spend an estimated trillion dollars over the next three decades on rebuilding and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It’s particularly disappointing to see these dollars flowing to lock in a huge U.S. nuclear arsenal for the rest of the century despite President Obama’s commitment to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Moreover, dollars spent on nuclear weapons are not helping to address growing 21st century threats such as terrorism or cyber security. For more see here.

What’s Happening Next — Budget Process and Pentagon Spending:

Now that the President has released his budget blueprint, Congress has the opportunity to now answer with its own blueprint and begin work to allocate spending. Here’s what will happen this spring.

Budget Resolutions:

The Republican-led House and Senate budget committees should now be developing Budget Resolutions – their budget blueprints. It is still unclear whether Republican leadership will come to an agreement to put forth their Budget Resolutions.

  • The Congressional Progressive Caucus has developed its own Budget Resolution called “The People’s Budget.”
  • WAND is hosting a Webinar: Our Budget, Our Priorities on March 16 at 3pm ET will look at different proposed budgets including the President’s Budget Request, The People’s Budget, and any other Budget Resolutions that are developed.

Appropriations and Authorization:

  • The appropriations subcommittees are holding budget hearings with agency representatives and will begin working on spending bills in this spring.
  • House and Senate Armed Services Committees will also be holding hearings and working on the National Defense Authorization Act which set policy and budget authority for the DOD, war spending, and nuclear weapons.


Next Steps for You – Engage in the Budget Priorities Debate:

WAND is hosting a Webinar: Our Budget, Our Priorities on March 16 at 3pm ET and we have more education and action opportunities coming soon.

Recommended Resources:





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