President Barack Obama sent his fiscal 2013 budget request to Congress today, the annual kick-off of the appropriations season. The interactive graph above puts the request’s topline revenue and spending figures, along with the resulting deficit or surplus, in historical context, extending those trends back to the early 1960s.
As a result of the Bush tax cuts and the great recession, revenue as a percentage of GDP dropped to an all-time low of 15.1% in fiscal 2009, from 20.6% of GDP in 2000. That same year, stimulus spending sent outlays above 25%, resulting in by far the largest deficit in history. Since 2009, the deficit has shrunk each year, but it remains well over historical norms at 8.5% of GDP.
The administration’s budget assumes that the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy will be allowed to expire at the end of this year, which would increase revenue substantially in fiscal 2013. Combined with mandated cuts to discretionary spending, those revenue increases would help bring the deficit below $1 trillion for the first time in five years.
About the Data
The Office of Management and Budget maintains a series of historical budget tables, updated once a year with the release of the president’s budget. These tables present data on the government’s fiscal activities in a variety of useful ways, breaking spending down by agency, tracking mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare, and translating cumulative deficits into debt projections, to name a few.
For the interactive above, we choose to present the spending, revenue and deficit/surplus totals from tables 1.1 and 1.3 so as to show the figures both in absolute dollar terms and as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product – the latter being a common way to look at the budget scaled to the size of the economy as a whole. Another way to view the data, which we did not include in this presentation, is in inflation adjusted dollars (table 1.2), controlling for rising prices over the years.
In budget-speak, there is an important distinction between the “budget authority” appropriated by Congress and the expected “outlays” for the same year. Budget authority is the amount authorized by Congress for discretionary programs in a given year; outlays are the actual dollars spent by the department or agency in that year.
Since the deficit is the difference between the annual inflow of revenue and outflow of outlays, we used outlays in the above interactive. However, in talking about budgets for individual agencies, we tend to use budget authority to talk about how much Congress has provided in a given year.