History of the US Federal Budget Deficit

Budget Deficit by Year

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen sitting in front of the national debt clock
Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen Testifies Before Congress. Alex Wong / Getty Images

The budget deficit is the difference between the money federal government takes in, called receipts, and what it spends, called outlays each year. The U.S. government has run a multibillion-dollar deficit almost every year in modern history, spending much more than it takes in.

The opposite of a budget deficit, a budget surplus occurs when the government’s revenue exceeds current expenditures resulting in an excess of money that can be used as needed.

In fact, the government has recorded budget surpluses in only five years since 1969, most of them under Democratic President Bill Clinton.

 In all-too rare times when revenue equals spending, the budget is called “balanced.” 

Debt Ceiling History ]

Running a budget deficit adds to the national debt and, in the past, has forced Congress to increase the debt ceiling under numerous presidential administrations, both Republican and Democrat, to allow the government to meet its statutory obligations.

Although federal deficits have shrunk markedly in recent years, the CBO projects that under current law increased spending for Social Security and major health care programs, like Medicare, along with increasing interest costs will cause the national debt to rise steadily over the long term.

The larger deficits would cause federal debt to grow faster than the economy. By 2040, CBO projects, the national debt will be more than 100% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and continue on an upward path – “a trend that cannot be sustained indefinitely,” notes the CBO.

 

Notice particularly the sudden jump in the deficit from $162 billion in 2007, to $1.4 trillion in 2009. This increase was due primarily to spending for special, temporary government programs intended to re-stimulate the economy during the "great recession" of that period.

Here is the actual and projected budget deficit or surplus by fiscal year, according to Congressional Budget Office data for modern history.

  • 2020 - $484 billion budget deficit (projected)
  • 2019 - $475 billion budget deficit (projected)
  • 2018 - $453 billion budget deficit (projected)
  • 2017 - $454 billion budget deficit (projected)
  • 2016 - $544 billion budget deficit (projected)
  • 2015 - $439 billion budget deficit
  • 2014 - $514 billion budget deficit
  • 2013 - $719 billion budget deficit
  • 2012 - $1.1 trillion budget deficit
  • 2011 - $1.3 trillion budget deficit
  • 2010 - $1.3 trillion budget deficit
  • 2009 - $1.4 trillion budget deficit
  • 2008 - $455 billion budget deficit
  • 2007 - $162 billion budget deficit
  • 2006 - $248.2 billion budget deficit
  • 2005 - $319 billion budget deficit
  • 2004 - $412.7 billion budget deficit
  • 2003 - $377.6 billion budget deficit
  • 2002 - $157.8 billion budget deficit
  • 2001 - $128.2 billion budget surplus
  • 2000 - $236.2 billion budget surplus
  • 1999 - $125.6 billion budget surplus
  • 1998 - $69.3 billion budget surplus
  • 1997 - $21.9 billion budget deficit
  • 1996 - $107.4 billion budget deficit
  • 1995 - $164 billion budget deficit
  • 1994 - $203.2 billion budget deficit
  • 1993 - $255.1 billion budget deficit
  • 1992 - $290.3 billion budget deficit
  • 1991 - $269.2 billion budget deficit
  • 1990 - $221 billion budget deficit
  • 1989 - $152.6 billion budget deficit
  • 1988 - $155.2 billion budget deficit
    • 1987 - $149.7 billion budget deficit
    • 1986 - $221.2 billion budget deficit
    • 1985 - $212.3 billion budget deficit
    • 1984 - $185.4 billion budget deficit
    • 1983 - $207.8 billion budget deficit
    • 1982 - $128 billion budget deficit
    • 1981 - $79 billion budget deficit
    • 1980 - $73.8 billion budget deficit
    • 1979 - $40.7 billion budget deficit
    • 1978 - $59.2 billion budget deficit
    • 1977 - $53.7 billion budget deficit
    • 1976 - $73.7 billion budget deficit
    • 1975 - $53.2 billion budget deficit
    • 1974 - $6.1 billion budget deficit
    • 1973 - $14.9 billion budget deficit
    • 1972 - $23.4 billion budget deficit
    • 1971 - $23 billion budget deficit
    • 1970 - $2.8 billion budget deficit
    • 1969 - $3.2 billion budget surplus

     

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    Murse, Tom. "History of the US Federal Budget Deficit." ThoughtCo, Oct. 3, 2016, thoughtco.com/history-of-us-federal-budget-deficit-3321439. Murse, Tom. (2016, October 3). History of the US Federal Budget Deficit. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-us-federal-budget-deficit-3321439 Murse, Tom. "History of the US Federal Budget Deficit." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-us-federal-budget-deficit-3321439 (accessed November 19, 2017).