4

Most expenditures in US budget are funded out of a general budget pool (e.g., you do not have a direct purposeful correspondence between source of funding, and a budget expenditure).

There are however exceptions to this; for example theoretically Social Security taxes go into a separate Social Security Trust fund which in turn is used for paying out Social Security benefits (not as clean or simple as that in reality, though).

Is there a good comprehensive list of either all, or at least major (by outlay size) expenditures that are NOT funded from the general budget pool?

4

UPDATE

I misunderstood the question, which was actually asking about federal government revenues that are paid into a fund other than the general fund and can only be disbursed for a specific purpose. This involves what is called Fund Accounting.

There is a nice comprehensive 14 page discussion of these funds in the 2018 budget here that has both a summary of different subgroups of these funds and a list of many of the more notable ones. They come in two categories, "trust funds" the major ones of which are discussed in some detail, and the "federal funds group" which consists of the general fund and all other funds that are not "trust funds" (a lot of what you are looking for), for which there are examples and there is some overall summary information.

A 95 page explanation from the GAO (a legislative agency that conducts Congressional oversight of the federal government) from 1999 gets into more detail, although the amounts are outdated and the list of funds is a bit stale. According to this report:

Almost 100 percent of trust fund revenues are concentrated in 20 funds, nearly 90 percent of special fund revenues are concentrated in 20 funds, and about 90 percent of public enterprise fund revenues are concentrated in 16 funds.

About 85% of these amounts go into trust funds (almost all of it goes into the twenty largest ones). About 10% of these amounts go into public enterprise funds (9% of the total goes into the 16 largest public enterprise funds) and about 4% of these amounts go into "special funds" and "revolving funds" (90% of that into the twenty largest ones). In 1999 there were 392 funds in all in the federal government.

In 2018, the federal budget was about twice the size that it was in 1999 in nominal dollar terms. So, public enterprise funds spend about $240 billion a year now, "special funds" and "revolving" funds spend about $100 billion a year (both of these are part of the "Federal Funds Group"), and about $2 trillion dollars are spent (mostly) by the twenty largest funds in the Trust Fund Group.

All funds other than the general fund combined make up roughly half of the federal budget.

Individual and corporate income taxes go into the general fund. Payroll taxes generally go into trust funds for specific programs discussed in the links above (e.g. Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance). Some excise taxes, customs duties and miscellaneous income of the federal government go into a mix of earmarked funds, and some of that revenue goes into the general fund. Usually excise taxes and miscellaneous income end up in specific funds, while usually customs duties end up in the general fund, although there are exception to these general rules. A pie chart breaking down federal government revenue by type is here.

END UPDATE

The expenditures that you are describing are known as "discretionary spending" and are summarized here, at the cabinet department level with links to more detailed descriptions. A one page summary from the Congressional Budget Office of Discretionary Spending is here. A 41 page summary of historical trends in discretionary spending prepared by the Congressional Research Service (an agency within the Library of Congress) is here. A recent CRS report on the most recent federal budget which also lists all of the main official publications discussing it is here.

One of the more useful summaries is in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the online version of which is offline during the government shutdown. It breaks down budget line items by department and then has additional detail for selected programs within departments. The World Almanac (2019) (in dead tree format at pages 65-66) also has a similar summary.

A Wikipedia summary by department of the entire federal budget in 2018 (including both mandatory and discretionary spending by department) is here.

There is a distinction between a budget, which is a proposed outline of what the person propounding it plans to spend, and appropriations bills, which are what is actually authorized to be spent, and actual expenditures which differ from appropriations bills because not all appropriated money is always spent.

The first state of the process is the budget prepared by the President. The most recent one is here. The 2017 OMB budget proposal is here. This is prepared by the Office of Management and Budget in the White House office. The full text of the most recent Presidential budget was five volumes long. This is the most readable and comprehensive of the budget documents, but it is often ignored by Congress. It is, however, useful for learning what major programs are in each cabinet department so long as you recognize that the amounts requested are often not appropriated and that some new pilot projects proposed in the Presidential budget will never be implemented or adopted.

The next step is for Congress to adopt a budget (consistent with the process created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, see also here) in the form of a Concurrent Resolution (the one introduced in 2018 before amendment or adoption is here). This is prepared by separate House and Senate Budget Committees and the Joint Budget Committee with input from the Congressional Budget Office (a legislative agency within Congress) and other members of Congress. For example, the House's initial version of the resolution that was its 2018 budget is here. The budget is not always followed by subsequent appropriations bills, but there are procedural benefits that appropriations bills which follow the budget enjoy (e.g. the ability to avoid a filibuster). The most recent CBO summary (a report with hyperlinks to sections of the report) is here.

The third step if for Congress to adopt about a dozen appropriations bills that roughly track cabinet departments, to implement the budget. These bills are adopted by the appropriations committees in Congress. Links to the status of the pending appropriations bills can be found here. (See also here). The real granular detail of federal government spending is contained in the bill text and committee reports on the appropriations bills. The status of the appropriations bills that have passed the U.S. House of Representatives by appropriations subcommittee jurisdiction and the corresponding Congressional budget authority for the current year is here. Links to the text of each of the appropriations bills passed for the current year, and each of the appropriations bills introduced but not passed can be found here.

As of the current government shutdown most of these appropriations bills had been adopted (e.g. the Department of Defense appropriations bill), but some important ones (e.g. the Agriculture Department and the Department of Homeland Security) had not been adopted. The Departments whose appropriations bills were not adopted before the previous appropriations bills for that Department expired are the ones that are currently shut down.

The final step is for the federal government to spend the appropriated money. The itemization of which appropriated funds weren't actually spent are published (not necessarily all in one place) by the Treasury Department and CBO. This information is usually obscure and usually read only by policy wonks and DC journalists, except when it reveals some sort of defiance of Congress by the President.

The most recent Xcel Spreadsheet summarizing federal government spending in detail is here. This is the most detailed easily available comprehensive summary of federal spending (as opposed to mere proposed federal government spending) all in one place and includes both mandatory and discretionary spending line items. It is easier to find documentation of the whole budget or of a single department or appropriations bill, than to find the discretionary budget as a whole broken out separately.

  • Sorry, may be I'm missing something but from my understanding "discretionary spending" is NOT what the question is about, as that spending is STILL payed for by the same funding as mandatory budget items/entitlements. I'm asking about spending that has different funding source, not different budgeting process. – user4012 Jan 11 at 20:05
  • @user4012 You are absolutely right. I misunderstood the question and virtually got it backwards. So, what the question is really asking about are the funds on the balance sheet of the United States other than the general fund. So, for example, the vaccine tax is paid into a fund for medical care for people who have adverse medical reactions to vaccines, and the gas tax goes into the highway trust fund. Oops. Thanks for pointing that out. I'll leave the answer up rather than deleting it, because it will be useful to someone. But, I agree that I misunderstood what was being asked. Updated now. – ohwilleke Jan 12 at 1:45

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.