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FACT: More than half of all federal spending occurs automatically, without any congressional debate or vote. More than half, 55.5 percent, of the federal budget, about $2 trillion, is so-called “mandatory” spending — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, civilian and military retirement benefits, and veterans’ benefits. Spending levels are determined by the number of people who qualify for program benefits, not congressional action. “Discretionary” spending — spending actually approved by Congress each year — from defense to education to Amtrak — accounts for less than 45 percent of the budget.