At their most basic level, budget debates in Washington are about "who gets what" and "who pays for it." In other words, how do tax and spending policies redistribute income?

After enacting tax and spending policies, lawmakers should have a basic understanding of what might be called a "fiscal accounting" of the amount of government benefits families receive compared to what they pay in taxes. This fiscal accounting ensures that tax and spending policies benefit their intended parties while meeting the broader social standards of fairness.

Tax Foundation economists first began conducting this fiscal accounting in 1967 with a landmark study showing how much households at various income levels received in government spending compared to how much they paid in taxes. We updated that research in 1981, 2007, 2009, and 2013. The most recent studies have also measured the amount of income redistributed from some groups of Americans to others.

We hope this research contributes to an honest debate over tax and spending policies in Washington.