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Where Tax Dollars Go

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

Many people don't realize just how invested in the federal government they are. Graphic designer Jess Bachman has created a visual guide that shows just where your tax dollars go.

His poster, "Death and Taxes," illustrates the president's budget request for 2009. The budget is debated, amended, and approved by Congress, ideally by October 1, to begin the fiscal year. (The budget fluctuates yearly according to the wishes of the president and the power of Congress.) Although all of the information contained in the poster is available at the Office of Management and Budget at, it is thousands of pages long and uses confusing terminology. Thus, Jess wanted to create something that was easier, allowing people to easily compare and contrast information, and come to some realizations. For example, although it may sound wonderful that the National Cancer Institute will get $4.8 billion next year, it's only about half of what the Missile Defense Program is getting. So cancer, which is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., is trumped by the Administration's desire to protect us from rogue missiles.

Spending for the Department of Defense is more than $515 billion, up 7 percent from last year. The military takes up a particularly large amount of spending -- $189 billion in addition to the $515 billion is going toward the military. This covers everything from construction to personnel, including more than $2 billion spent on 10,878 Hummers.

The Department of Health is the largest department outside of the Department of Defense; the National Institutes of Health funds all major health research, from cancer to drug abuse. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is periodically in the news, whether it is for avian flu or anthrax, and terrorism-related spending has been creeping up on the standard infectious disease spending for a while.

Spending on the Indian Health Service is sizable, at $3.325 billion and, unknown to most Americans, as is other Indian-related federal spending, like housing. Most people think the Native Americans get their tax-free reservations and that's it, but they are also a major beneficiary of federal health funding, a billion more than we spend on HIV/AIDS research and treatment. Unfortunately, the Department of Health will receive a 2 percent cut in funding for 2009, although there is one program making leaps and bounds -- the Public Health Emergency Fund, which will come into play in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

Many people have the misconception that the Department of Education funds their local schools, when most of the education is paid for with property and other taxes. The Department of Education mainly funds special education and tries to maintain some kind of basic standard across the nation, via the perennially underfunded No Child Left Behind Act. Another major function of the federal government in education is the Pell Grants and loans that numerous college students rely on. Unfortunately, the Department of Education is up 0 percent for 2009, meaning there is no new money going in, which doesn't even keep up with inflation at around 2 percent.

There are many deep budget cuts, like the Safe and Drug Free schools programs, which are down 59 percent, and the Historically Black Colleges fund, which is down 26 percent, among others. Interestingly, there is always one program in the Department of Education that is rising every year -- the National Security Language Initiative, which teaches students as young as kindergarten the languages of our adversaries (Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, and Farsi) so they can "strengthen our national security" in the future. This is a good example of education programs having to make cuts, unless they are defense-related -- then the budget goes up significantly, like in this National Security Language Initiative.

Some other interesting facts to note: The Treasury Department is made up of 90 percent IRS, which spends $5 billion each year collecting and enforcing taxes. Our national debt is now up to $10.15 trillion, an 8 percent increase from last year. And from this year alone, our budget deficit is $407 billion, up 70 percent from last year.

If you are unsatisfied with how your tax dollars are being spent, be sure to let members of Congress know. When deciding on how the money is spent, Congress listens to the administration, experts, lobbyists, and the people living and voting in their districts. So unless people prefer the former three parties deciding how much scholarship money your kids receive next year, it is best to make one's voice heard. Write to your members of Congress -- to whom, incidentally, we're paying $200,000 a year.

Special thanks to Jess Bachman for sharing this information. For more information, or to purchase a copy of the "Death and Taxes" poster, visit Enter the promotion code "Martha" when checking out to get an additional poster for free with your purchase.

Comments (14)

  • shereec 9 Jun, 2008

    I ordered the "Death and Taxes" poster; entered "Martha" promotion; but also did NOT receive the second poster. I would like to request that Martha Stewart staff follow up on this promotion offer that is not being fulfilled. Thank you.

  • kkj999 15 May, 2008

    I ordered The Death

  • mamacas 9 May, 2008

    I saw "Where Tax Dollars Go" on Martha's show. As my son-in-law is a professor of graphic arts at MCAD I decided to send for a copy of the poster. I believe Martha said you would get two for the price of one ($25). As yet I have not received my poster(s). I am really looking forward to getting the poster...guess I share Martha's liberal bias. Mamacas

  • effiebelle 18 Apr, 2008

    What he lacked in his presentation was historical context. Defense is one of the responsibilities our government was mandated from the beginning. Before 9/11, it had been cut drastically. Playing catch up to make us safe is costing us big bucks.
    Marthas liberal bias was showing on this segment. No balance, That is not a good thing.

  • natandlee 17 Apr, 2008

    Thank you, Emily. I don't know what jewelz7 is smoking.

  • jewelz7 17 Apr, 2008

    I am fully aware of what his poster depicts, I am not arguing that. I simply disagree with what the poster says. A conservative estimate is that nine workers pay for the benefits of one SS receiver. Majority simply means that it is the largest when compaired to all others so, yes; 644 billion could be the majority of a $3 trillion budget. I am a CPA, so it is my JOB to display factual and relevent financial information. I honestly did miss what Bachman's specifications.

  • EmilyCooper 16 Apr, 2008

    jewelz7, according to Mr Bachmans website, all the raw data came straight from the whitehouse. The poster depicts SS at 644 billion and if you think that is a "MAJORITY" of the 3 trillion dollar budget then you should re-check your math. You are welcome to bring facts to this discussion but I am sure you will find out they do not support your own uneducated artificial ravings. Kudos to Martha for stepping outside the sewing circle and adding some needed politics to the mix.

  • jewelz7 16 Apr, 2008

    Bachman failed to mention Social Security entirely It is well known that SS takes up the MAJORITY of the budget. He was completely bias, uneducated, and down-right pompous to make such bold statements. It was hard to watch an entire audience indulge in this mann n n n n n s artificial representation of the budget. This show has a responsibility to the public and it failed us on this one. I suggest that you screen your future guest

  • EmilyCooper 15 Apr, 2008

    madgrad, i don't recall Mr.Bachman stating that most of the budget was spent on Defense, he said 'a lot' of the 2009 budget was focused there. obviously he didn't get the chance to mention EVERYTHING of interest that is present on his poster. have you viewed his poster on his website? it's pretty detailed and accurate. Give the guy a break, he was on Martha for one segment, not the whole show. he shared what Martha and her staff obviously found interesting/wanted aired on her program.

  • madgrad 15 Apr, 2008

    All I can say is, where did Mr. Bachman get his stats? As I look at the website and the 1040 publication, I see much different numbers than what he showed. He said National Defense and the Global War on Terror was where the US govt was budgeted to spend the most money in 2009. However, if you look at the IRS site, it shows that 23% is spent on Defense while 36% is spent on Social Security

  • nenebalo 15 Apr, 2008

    Thank you so much for covering such an important subject. I'd like to see more segments like this.


  • gailzierk 15 Apr, 2008

    As troubling as wasteful spending of our tax dollars is, I am dissappointed that Mr. Bachman failed to mention the $338,000,000,000 spent on illegal aliens. I guess Mr. Bachman is a liberal Democrat.
    Jim Zierk

  • jennblon 15 Apr, 2008

    This kid is AMAZING!

  • EmilyCooper 15 Apr, 2008

    After seeing this poster on Martha's show this morning, i immediately found myself compelled to go to Mr.Bachman's website, to look further into exactly where the average American person's tax dollars go.. and all i can truly say, is WOW! Jess Bachman has opened my eyes to the reality that, as much as we put trust in the American Government to spend our 'tax dollars' correctly and in the right manor, we truly are not knowledgeable as to where that money ends up. Great work Jess!