Visualization: Federal revenue and outlays

An interactive visualization of federal government revenue and spending from 1962 to the present.

This data comes from the Congressional Budget Office Budget and Economic Data page. CBO describes its role as this:

Since 1975, CBO has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process. Each year, the agency’s economists and budget analysts produce dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates for proposed legislation. CBO is strictly nonpartisan; conducts objective, impartial analysis; and hires its employees solely on the basis of professional competence without regard to political affiliation. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate summarizes the methodology underlying the analysis.

While CBO often makes projections of the future and those projections may be controversial, the data in this visualization is historical.

CBO presents this data in current dollars and as a percent of gross domestic product, or GDP. The term “current dollars” means the actual number of dollars spent or received. Over time, inflation changes the relative value of dollars. These changes can be large. For example, the value of a dollar in 1962 (the starting year for this data) is 8.465 times the value of a dollar in 2019. These valuations are based on the Consumer Price Index, which is produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor.

When current dollars are adjusted to account for inflation, the result is “real dollars.” In this visualization, I have used the CPI to convert current dollars to the value of dollars in 2019.

CBO also presents data as a percentage of gross domestic product. This is a measure of the portion of our national income that is spent as outlays or taxed as revenue.

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Example from the visualization. Click for larger.