The U.S. federal budget deficit for fiscal year 2020 is $1.10 trillion. FY 2020 covers October 1, 2019, through September 30, 2020. The deficit occurs because the U.S. government spending of $4.75 trillion is higher than its revenue of $3.65 trillion.
The deficit is 1% greater than last year. The FY 2019 budget created a $1.09 trillion deficit. Spending of $4.53 trillion was more than the estimated $3.44 trillion in revenue, according to Table S-4 of the FY 2020 budget.1
Three Reasons for the Current Budget Deficit
Many people blame the deficits on entitlement programs. But that’s not supported by the budget. These enormous deficits are the result of three factors.
First, the attacks on 9/11 led to the War on Terror. It’s added $2.4 trillion to the debt since 2001. It almost doubled annual military spending. It rose from $111.9 billion in 2003 to a peak of $150.8 billion in 2019. That includes the defense department budget and off-budget emergency spending, and increases for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Trump administration will set new records of defense spending. It is estimated to reach $989 billion. That includes spending for departments that support defense, such as Homeland Security, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
U.S. military spending is greater than those of the next 10 largest government expenditures combined. It’s four times greater than China’s military budget, and 10 times bigger than Russia’s defense spending. It’s difficult to reduce the budget deficit without cutting U.S. defense spending.
Second is the impact of tax cuts. They immediately reduce revenue for each dollar cut. Proponents of supply-side economics argue that the government will recoup that loss over the long term by boosting economic growth and the tax base. But the National Bureau of Economic Research found that only 17% of the revenue from income tax cuts was regained.2 It also found that 50% of the revenue from corporate tax cuts was lost.
For example, the Bush tax cuts added $2.023 trillion to the debt between 2011 and 2020. The Congressional Research Service estimated that service cost on that debt would add another $450 billion.3
Going forward, the Trump tax cut will reduce revenue. It’s reducing the personal income tax rate, corporate taxes, and small business taxes. These cuts total $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. But the Joint Committee on Taxation said the cuts would stimulate growth by 0.7% annually. The increased growth will add revenue, offsetting some of the tax cuts. As a result, the deficit will increase $1 trillion over the next decade.
Lastly is unfunded elements of mandatory spending. Some people point to the $1 trillion cost of Social Security as a contributor to the deficit. But it’s funded through payroll taxes and the Social Security Trust Fund until 2034.
Medicare will cost $702 billion in FY 2020. But only 49% adds to the deficit. Payroll taxes and premiums pay for the remainder.4
The rest of the mandatory budget adds to the deficit. This includes Medicaid, which will be $426 billion in FY 2020. Medicaid provides health care to those with low incomes.