Entitlement Spending and the Federal Budget

Background

At the federal level, there are two categories of budgetary expenditures: entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. and discretionary spending.

EntitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs must provide benefits to everyone meeting the eligibility requirements. That is why the term entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. is used to describe them. Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, and food and nutrition assistance are among the many federal entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs. Some entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs, most notably Medicaid, are co-funded by federal and state governments.

Spending on entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs depends on the cost of delivering the service and the number of people who qualify.

In contrast, discretionary programs receive a set budget from Congress during each budget cycle. That budget amount limits either the number of people served by a program or the amount received by each person. Examples of discretionary programs include infrastructure, education, social services, and research and development.

EntitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. spending consumes a large and growing portion of the federal budget. As a result, deficitThe amount by which annual expenditures exceed annual revenues.-reduction efforts have sometimes targeted entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs. The costs of these programs can be addressed by controlling health care costs, helping people work longer, and promoting economic growth.

Tax expenditures are like entitlements. Payments are made to everyone who qualifies for them and are not subject to annual budget decisions. Tax expenditures include tax credits and tax deductions (see also Tax Expenditures). People with higher incomes are more likely than people with lower incomes to benefit from tax expenditureMoney spent through the tax code, such as through exclusions, deductions, credits or special tax rates. programs. The opposite is true for direct-spending entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. programs.

ENTITLEMENT SPENDING AND THE FEDERAL BUDGET: Policy

ENTITLEMENT SPENDING AND THE FEDERAL BUDGET: Policy

Entitlement spending

Efforts to reform entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. spending should recognize the following factors:

  • Projected increases in health care costs are the primary drivers of increases in projected entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. spending.
  • Commissions or other bodies charged with making recommendations to reduce future deficits should be balanced in composition and conduct fair and transparent deliberations that give adequate time and access to all sides.
  • Attempts to create or expand tax expenditures should be subject to the same scrutiny as the limitation or elimination of entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. spending.
  • Across-the-board cuts in entitlementPrograms that provide benefits to anyone who meets specific legal criteria. spending should be rejected.