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A People's Guide to the Federal Budget
Mattea Kramer et al/National Priorities Project; foreword by B. Ehrenreich; afterword by J. Silver

published 2012 • 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" • 224 pages • graphics and charts
ISBN 9781566568876 • paperback • $15.00

A comprehensive resource on what every American should know about how our government raises and spends our tax dollars

From history of the budget process to detail about the ongoing conflict in Washington, from charts explaining where every federal dollar goes to simple explanations of budget terminology, this book covers it all.

A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget is for every American who wants to understand and participate in a process that affects all of us. It serves as a foundation for the novice reader, a reference tool for a more advanced audience, and is perfect for high school and college classroom use. Released to coincide with the fiscal year 2013 budget process and the 2012 presidential election, this guide includes up-to-the-minute numbers and explanation of President Obama's 2013 budget request.

Ideally, the federal budget is a reflection of our values and our vision for the role of our government. The $3.7 trillion the government is planning to spend this year is mostly our money. We contribute about 60 percent of the government’s total revenues each year (not including borrowing) through individual income taxes and payroll deductions for such things as Social Security and Medicare. This means we are all stakeholders in the government’s decisions about how this money will be spent.

Understanding the federal budget is essential. Our elected representatives in Washington make choices that impact not just us, but our children, and our children’s children. We need to be in this debate, and be in it for the long haul, if we are to build the kind of government, and the kind of nation, that truly reflects our values.

Mattea Kramer is a senior research analyst at National Priorities Project. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

National Priorities Project (NPP) is a non-profit research organization that makes our complex federal budget transparent and accessible so people can exercise their right and responsibility to oversee and influence how their tax dollars are spent. Find NPP on-line at

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of fourteen books, including the bestselling Nickel and Dimed, Blood Rites, The Worst Years of Our Lives (a New York Times bestseller) and Fear of Falling, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. She is a frequent contributor to Time, Harper's, Esquire, The New Republic, Mirabella, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine.

Josh Silver is CEO of United Republic, a new, nonpartisan organization challenging the undue influence of well-financed special interests over American politics and government. Silver is a veteran election and media reform executive. He cofounded and served for nine years as president of Free Press, the nation’s leading media and technology reform advocacy organization.

Media Reviews

“Given the fateful budget choices we now face as a country, A People's Guide to the Federal Budget crucially helps all citizens understand the process by which those choices will be made and how we can all engage to ensure the best possible outcome.”
—Anthony W. Marx, President, New York Public Library

"This primer on the complicated federal budget process is offered in readily understandable language for all readersnovices, those with more information, and high school and college students. The book clearly addresses such issues as discretionary and mandatory spending; how the federal government creates a budget; where the money comes from and goes; and the federal debt. In the foreword, author Ehrenreich reflects on the challenges people face in trying to make ends meet on meager paychecks or without a paycheck. Many individual lives are profoundly impacted by necessary safety-net programs for public assistance. Her priorities for helping working people include universal healthcare, better public schools, and affordable housing. Other important priorities include construction of roads and highways, law enforcement, and veterans’ assistance. There is much disagreement about the role of the federal government, but it is imperative that all Americans understand its operations in order to effectively participate in our political process. This is a valuable resource for a wide range of library patrons.”
— Booklist

“Nothing will change in Washington unless the American people demand it. 'A People's Guide to the Federal Budget' empowers Americans by explaining the inside-Washington game and offering tools to hold lawmakers accountable.”
 Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration and best-selling author of Aftershock and The Work of Nations

"A People’s Guide to the Federal Budget is an invaluable citizen’s primer to the federal budget and budget process. The Washington budget and economic policy debates would be much more productive and representative of popular opinion if the contents of this book — and the trade-offs it spells out — were widely understood."
— Andrew Fieldhouse, Federal Budget Policy Analyst, Economic Policy Institute

“From Kramer and the National Priorities Project, a non-profit research organization that aims to make the federal budget transparent and accessible, this guide seeks to inform general readers and high school and college students about the federal budget to make them more active citizens. It details the steps of the federal budget process to help readers identify the impact of spending and tax policies on them and their community. It explains the budget's terminology and language, its history, its decision makers, where the money comes from and how it is allocated, the federal debt, the president's 2013 budget request, and how to take action. Appendices include activities for educators, a table of federal spending in the states, and other resources.”
—Book News

“Kramer (senior research analyst, National Priorities Project) here provides an understandable explanation of federal spending and revenues. The text explains why readers should care about the federal budget and how it affects them. It also breaks down technical language, e.g., mandatory and discretionary spending and revenue sources; 13 spending categories; how Congress and presidential administrations prepare budgets; nominal versus real dollars; fiscal and calendar years; departments that influence the budget and their acronyms, e.g., OMB, GAO, CBO, and CRS; budget creation chronology, beginning with the president, House and Senate action, their subcommittees' proposed appropriations, House and Senate reconciliations, and final presidential signature… Also included is a how-to guide readers can use to lobby their representatives. VERDICT : This book is worthwhile reading for all U.S. citizens… Of particular value for high school and college teachers… With a foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.”
—Library Journal

“Understanding federal government operations requires understanding federal finances. This short book, produced by the National Priorities Project, provides an excellent foundation for anyone seeking an initial understanding. In a clear fashion, it goes through the basic numbers of federal government finances, expenditures, revenues, deficits, and debt; gives cogent explanations of some arcane terminology used in the system; and goes through the legislative process that determines spending and revenue choices. It provides short descriptions of the major laws that establish the choice process and briefly explains what the laws are supposed to do and why. The many graphs help show how spending, revenue, and debt have changed over the years. One chapter examines President Obama's 2013 budget (thus requiring revised editions). The book also includes an instruction guide for high schools... Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers and undergraduate students.”
— Choice


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Capitalism Hits the Fan (2nd Edition)