101 and Q&A Resources from CRFB

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget publishes resources on everything from the appropriations process to taxes to the sequester, explaining complex federal budget topics in relatively simple language.

Appropriations 101

Appropriations are annual decisions made by Congress about how the federal government spends some of its money. In general, the appropriations process addresses the discretionary portion of the budget – spending ranging from national defense to food safety to education to federal employee salaries, but excludes mandatory spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, which is spent automatically according to formulas.

Everything You Need to Know About Budget Gimmicks, in 8 Charts

Congressional Budget Office reports show that our debt remains on an unsustainable path, (see our ongoing blog series) and is projected to be $1.7 trillion higher by 2024 than we previously thought. Despite the dismal fiscal picture, Congress may be considering measures to worsen the deficit, and covering their tracks with so-called "budget gimmicks." We released a chartbook, "Avoiding Budget Gimmicks," which explains and illustrates several of the tricks and slights of hand that policymakers may use to avoid identifying genuine offsets and payfors.

Understanding the Sequester

“The sequester” is an across-the-board spending cut designed in 2011 to force the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (“Supercommittee”) to agree on a broad deficit reduction package. Upon the failure of the Supercommittee, the sequester set into motion $109 billion of annual spending cuts each year from Fiscal Year 2013 (FY2013) through FY2021. The sequester cuts began in March of 2013 after being delayed two months by the fiscal cliff legislation (and having the FY2013 cut lessened by $24 billion).

The Tax Break-Down

The Tax Break-Down, which analyzes and review tax breaks under discussion as part of tax reform. Previously, we wrote about the Charitable Deduction, which lets itemizers deduct the amount they donate to charity. Read more posts in the Tax Break-Down here. This blog examines the provisions that expired at the end of 2013.

Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About a Budget Conference

This year, Congress made it a priority to pass a concurrent budget resolution. Both the House of Representatives and Senate passed their own budget plans at the end of March, and now they must work through the differences in the two budgets through a budget conference committee. This week, both chambers began the process and appointed conferees to serve on the committee. Below, we explain how this budget conference will work, and what it intends to accomplish.

Q&A: Everything You Should Know About the Conference Committee

As part of the bipartisan deal to end the government shutdown and avoid default, a budget conference was established. The purpose of this conference is to reconcile the House and Senate budget resolutions passed earlier this year, and optimally reach an agreement on government funding levels and how to set the country on a fiscally sustainable long-term path.

Q&A: Everything You Need to Know About the National Debt

Currently, the national debt held by the public is over $13 trillion, which is around 74 percent of the country’s economy, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The gross debt, which includes money owed to other parts of the federal government, is over $18 trillion, or roughly 103 percent of GDP. Throughout history, the United States has normally maintained some amount of debt. However, with the exception of a brief period during and immediately after World War II, debt levels have never been as high as they are now. Without congressional action, debt levels will continue increasing.

Q&A: Everything You Should Know About Government Shutdowns

It’s déjà vu all over again, again – Congress seems to be ignoring the gathering fiscal storm clouds. The most immediate of these is just around the corner: if lawmakers do not pass legislation to fund federal programs by September 30, the government will shut down.

Q&A: Everything You Should Know About the Debt Ceiling

Attention is turning towards raising the federal debt ceiling, which will be reinstated after February 7th. At that point, the limit will be about $17.3 trillion, according to estimates from the Bipartisan Policy Center. At that time, the Treasury Department would have to begin use of a limited amount of accounting tools at their disposal, called extraordinary measures, to avoid defaulting on their obligations. However, even with such measures, the Treasury Department estimates that they will only be able to continue paying the nation’s bills until late February, by which point the debt ceiling would need to be raised. The following is a short primer on the debt ceiling and on the ways to responsibly address it while also dealing with unsustainable federal borrowing going forward.

Understanding the Debt Limit

While failing to increase the debt ceiling would be dangerous and self-defeating, it would also be a mistake not to use this opportunity to address the country’s mounting debt burden. To that end, President Obama and leaders of both chambers of Congress engaged in high-level negotiations in the hopes of agreeing on a deficit reduction package to attach to any debt ceiling increase.