White House unveils 'receipt' for taxes you pay

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer


WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- On the eve of tax day, the White House unveiled a new online tool that estimates how much of an individual's taxes pay for things such as war, NASA and the interest on the deficit.

However, the online calculator obscures how much of an individual's tax dollars goes to a controversial expense that Republicans have been railing about -- bailing out government-owned mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- by lumping it with other expense such as commerce, transportation and government administration.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wanted to give taxpayers an itemized receipt for how tax dollars are spent.

And the unveiling of the new online calculator couldn't be timelier, coming on the weekend when many are crunching their own tax bills.

"Just like you and I can get an itemized receipt for the purchases we make in the grocery store, the president believes we deserve transparency as to where our government's dollars are spent," said Aneesh Chopra, White House Chief Technology Officer.

But outside observers said the White House could have been even more transparent with its online receipt.

For example the online tax receipt seems to reduce billions of dollars pumped into Fannie and Freddie. The, White House says that's because the figure is being offset with the money banks already returned from the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout. That's explained in a footnote that appears when users hover their mouse over the linked text.

The bank portion of TARP is turning a profit for the federal government, but there's still a net deficit of $19 billion due to losses on bailouts to the auto industry, insurer American International Group and Treasury's mortgage assistance program.

A White House official said that they lumped expenditures in the "additional" catagory, because the expenses didn't fit elsewhere --- not to obscure the cost of programs.

"The tool would have been too unwiledly to be useful to the public if each of the very small percentages were included," the administration official said.

Third Way health and fiscal policy analyst David Kendall called the White House calculator a "tremendous effort."

But his own online taxpayer receipt crafted for Third Way, a center-left think tank, offered a lot more details on how tax dollars are spent, breaking out such things as Amtrak, foster care and adoption assistance, and ocean oil drilling regulation and natural resource leases.

He also noted that the White House lumped a lot of categories together and didn't account for Social Security and transportation highway trust fund spending.

"The question is, if you take all that stuff out, are you really giving an accurate picture?" Kendall said. "It's a great idea but the execution is a little challenging." To top of page

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