Budget Fact Of The Day: Congress Doesn’t Vote On 60% Of What The Federal Government Spends

Stephen Green makes this observation:

On Fox News Sunday, Mitch McConnell dropped a bit of trivia we don’t think of very often — but it’s still all too true. That is, “We don’t vote on 60% of the budget.”

Congress doesn’t have a say over nearly two-thirds of all spending — that’s entitlements and interest on the debts.

This is the biggest part of our problem and the biggest reason why trying to run the government without raising the debt ceiling would be, in a word, difficult. Green is right that this needs to be reformed, and fast. At this point, even a modest rise in T-Bill interest rates would cause that 60% number to increase substantially. And then what are we going to do? That will be when the entitlement society dies, and it will be painful.



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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, I should have headlined it “Representation Without Representation.”

  2. john personna says:

    Explain that to me. Congress seldom changes entitlements, but they can, right?

  3. @john personna:

    Congress seldom changes entitlements, but they can, right?

    They can, yes.

  4. The bottom line is that once a benefit is defined the only reason to vote on it again is to change the nature of the benefit. Most vote deal with things like growth rates for programs (as one might remember from the 1990s and the debate over cuts to increases in benefits).

    A yearly vote, btw, is unlikely to result in an especially different outcome than the current system.

  5. MM says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: So then they are choosing to not vote on this, rather than not being ABLE to vote on this, correct? It seems to me then that Green is wrong when he declares that they don’t have a say.

  6. @MM:

    Yes, they are able to vote on the entitlement issues. The thing is, unless there is going to be a change in benefits in a given year there is no particular need to have a vote.

    if you have decided that people under condition X get benefit Y this becomes automatic until you decide to redefine X or Y.

    Some argue that we should be reevaluating X and Y on a yearly basis, and perhaps they are correct, perhaps they aren’t. However, there is nothing that stops congress from so doing.

  7. Ben Wolf says:

    It’s even worse than McConnell makes it out to be. Spending mandated by law for this fiscal year is just under $2.2 trillion, which just happens to be almost exactly the amount taken in. The entire defense budget (including homeland security, intelligence,the VA and servicing the related debt) is an additional $1.2 trillion. All of it borrowed.