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What is the U.S. Budget and Where does the Money Go?

L. S. Wynn
By L. S. Wynn
Updated May 17, 2024
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The actual payments made by the U.S. government in 2002 amounted to just over two trillion dollars - that's 2,000 billion dollars! We have taken a close look at the budget and pulled out some of the major categories to give you an idea of the allocations. The amounts below are in millions of dollars (1,000,000). See the "notes" section below for further descriptions of the categories.

category millions of dollars
Social security 456,413 United States Budget: Social security
National defense 348,555 United States Budget: National defense
Medicare 230,855 United States Budget: Medicare
Health 196,545 United States Budget: Health
Interest 170,951 United States Budget: Interest
Other 97,794 United States Budget: Other
Fed. employee retirement 83,193 United States Budget: Federal employee retirement
Education/soc. services 70,544 United States Budget: Education and Social services
Transportation 61,862 United States Budget: Transportation
Veterans services 50,984 United States Budget: Veterans services
Unemployment 50,645 United States Budget: Unemployment
Administration of justice 34,316 United States Budget: Administration of justice
Food assistance 33,228 United States Budget: Food assistance
Natural resources 29,454 United States Budget: Natural resources
International affairs 22,357 United States Budget: International affairs
Agriculture 22,188 United States Budget: Agriculture
General government 17,385 United States Budget: General government
Space flight 13,473 United States Budget: Space flight
Community development 12,991 United States Budget: Community development
General science 7,242 United States Budget: General science


  • Social Security: Disability Insurance (DI) and Social Security payments.
  • National defense: military personnel, operations, procurement, research.
  • Medicare: Hospital Insurance (HI), Supplementary medical insurance (SMI).
  • Health: Medicaid grants, National Institute of Health, health care services.
  • Interest: interest payments on government debt.
  • Other: all other payments not specifically listed in this chart.
  • Federal employee retirement: Federal employee retirement, disability, and related programs.
  • Education/social services: public broadcasting, library of congress, education expenses, financial aid for students.
  • Transportation: administration, maintenance and building of transportation infrastructure.
  • Veterans services: Financial and medical aid for veterans.
  • Unemployment: unemployment insurance.
  • Administration of justice: law enforcement, border control, prison system.
  • Food assistance: food stamps and child nutrition programs.
  • Natural resources: pollution control, land management, recreational resources.
  • International affairs: international security assistance, humanitarian assistance, State department.
  • Agriculture: Farm subsidies, research, programs.
  • General government: central fiscal operations, general government expenses.
  • Space flight: procurement, operations, research and supporting activities.
  • Community development: disaster relief, community programs, Indian programs.
  • General science: Basic research funding through National Science Foundation and Department of Energy (does not include space research).
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Discussion Comments
By anon299597 — On Oct 25, 2012

I am 14 years old and I understand why all of this money is being put toward these different categories but what about different schools? Why not just send money to the schools that really need it, to those that don't have not enough books for everyone? What's the point of you suggesting/telling us what you're going to do for me? They're telling us all these lies.

I know it might take some time, but five years is enough. I need change. I do well in school, but I'm not getting any reward for it, meaning why don't I have new books when I go to the next grade? I want a teacher who is going to want to be there to teach, not because they need money and they need to pay bills, and not a teacher who's going to give up on me.

So right now I'm trying to be the voice of students, and not just students, but kids all over the world who are not strong enough to stand up for themselves. I want to be their voice. We as children want to be heard and we want to tell adults what we need to grow up and be productive adults and be successful. I'm a student who's not afraid to make a change.

By anon167579 — On Apr 13, 2011

How much money does the US give Guam? Let's see a list of pork going to the states.

By Fiorite — On Jan 16, 2011

@ Chicada- I would have to agree with you. Recent info from the CBO states that a repeal of the health care bill would actually lead to an increase in the deficit equal to .5% of the GDP. at the current GDP ($14+ trillion) that is the equivalent of $70 billion dollars a year, and would equal $90 billion a year in five. That would also erase a reduction of $145 to $240 billion in budget savings depending on whether some of the provisions in the bill were extended. Repeal would be the worst thing for the US budget deficit, and would actually more than wipe out the savings created by Secretary of Defense Gates discretionary military cuts. Sometimes you have to take the rhetoric from politicians with a grain of salt and rely on good old math. Math always tells the truth.

By chicada — On Jan 15, 2011

@ submariner- I personally think that your statements are foolish. I would like to point out that the budget and what is spent are two different things. A balanced budget would be when fiscal year outlays equaled receipts.

In 2009, the total receipts were a little over 2.1 trillion dollars, while spending was just over 3.5 trillion dollars. This left a deficit of about 1.4 trillion dollars for FY 2009. The biggest segments of budget spending were defense (23% of spending), Social Security (20% of Spending), and medicare/medicaid (19% of spending). All other mandatory and discretionary spending accounts for less than 30% of federal spending.

If real inroads are going to be made in balancing the Federal budget than the first three areas are where the cuts and restructuring need to occur. The Health care overhaul is a weak overhaul, but it is a step in the right direction. The truth is that everyone will need to sacrifice something to make this country competitive again.

By submariner — On Jan 12, 2011

I think that the health care bill needs to be repealed to help balance the budget. It is going to be one of the most costly blunders in American history, and it is an example of the federal budget overstepping its boundaries (mandating coverage). I hope the repeal goes through so we can move toward balancing the US Federal Budget.

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