inside the high-stakes politics of the federal budget
How we got here
Where the money goes
Where the money comes from
Why this can't go on forever
In a narrative about the people and politics behind the federal budget, Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel, author of the New York TImes bestseller In Fed We Trust, looks at where the money comes from, how the government spends taxpayers' money, and why the budget is on an unsustainable trajectory. Few topics are more contentious or more consequential than the federal budget. For on thing, the numbers boggle the mind. The U.S. government spent $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2011--$400 million an hour--more than $30,000 per household. That is as much as all the goods and services produced by the entire economy of Germany, the fifth-largest economy in the world. In an account written for those who live outside the Beltway, Wessel explains the vast scope of the budget and puts its growth in historical context. When Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, federal spending stood at 4.3 percent of the GDP; today it is almost six times that, accounting for one dollar out of every four int he overall economy. He tells us, fro example: The U.S. defense budget is greater than the combined defense budgets of the next seventeen highest defense spenders; The federal government gives up almost as much money for tax loopholes, deductions, credits, and other tax breaks as it collects in individual and corporate income taxes; Firing every federal government employee wouldn't save enough even to cut the budget deficit in half. Next. he pulls back the curtain to show us where all that money goes, introducing us along the way to some of the key figures who help to shape the budget and guide policy over taxes and spending, from Jack Lew, former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under Presidents Clinton and Obama and current White House chief of staff, and Representative Paul Ryan to Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Leon Panetta, director of the OMB from 1993 to 1994 and current secretary of defense. Finally, Wessel walks us through the nuts and bolts of why current budget trends are unsustainable. As he makes painfully clear, America's twentieth-century tax code can't support a twenty-first-century budget.
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