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Recently, a reader sent us a letter they received from their local congressman, Indiana Republican Todd Young. The reader was surprised at one of the claims.
It said "nearly 70 percent of all federal spending will go towards Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid" in fiscal year 2014.
The reader wondered whether that was true, and so did we. So we turned to the most recent budgetary estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
If you add together the costs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for fiscal year 2014, and then subtract the offsetting receipts for those programs, you come up with 45 percent of all federal spending. That’s far lower than "nearly 70 percent."
However, if you broaden the definition to include all forms of mandatory spending (or "entitlements") rather than just Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the percentage gets larger.
These additional entitlements include many different programs: food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, unemployment compensation, the earned income tax credit, child tax credits, child nutrition programs, federal civilian and military retirement payments, and veterans' benefits.
Adding together all forms of entitlements gets the share up to 61 percent. And if you add in a separate category of mandatory spending -- net interest on the national debt -- the number rises to 68 percent. That’s very close to 70 percent.
When we presented our research to Young’s office, a spokesman acknowledged the error.
"You hit the nail on the head," said spokesman Trevor Foughty. "The letter should have referred to all mandatory spending, including interest, with the those programs (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) being the most recognizable. We will make sure to update the letter with more clarity."
Young’s letter said that "nearly 70 percent of all federal spending will go towards Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid" in fiscal year 2014, and that’s not even close -- the real share is 45 percent.
Young’s office acknowledged that they should have clarified that they were including all types of entitlements plus net interest, rather than just those three programs. They said they would correct the statement in the future. However, our policy is to rate the original statement, and in this case, we conclude that it is False.
Todd Young, constituent letter forwarded to PolitiFact, June 19, 2013
Congressional Budget Office, "Updated Budget Projections: Fiscal Years 2013 to 2023," May 2013
Email interview with Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, July 2, 2013
Email interview with Trevor Foughty, spokesman for Rep. Todd Young, July 2, 2013
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