The new report from the Government Accountability Office — a federal auditing agency — shows that of the $3.7 trillion the federal government spent in 2015, $3.2 trillion of it didn’t require authorization by Congress that year. In other words, Congress only specifically approved 14% of what the federal government spent that year.
Over the years, Congress has passed laws that allow federal spending without any annual congressional approval. The biggest chunk is for so-called “entitlement programs” like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and welfare. Congress provided these programs with “permanent appropriations.” Spending levels are set automatically, based on eligibility rules and benefit amounts.
Over the years, this kind of autopilot spending authority exploded from $1.7 trillion in 1994 to $3.2 trillion by 2015. That’s an 87% increase, after adjusting for inflation.
The US population has increased by 24% since 1994, so “autopilot spending” per capita — again, mostly entitlements — has increased by nearly 66%.