Definition: Outlays refers to the actual disbursement of funds by the U.S. Treasury to meet obligations incurred by the federal government. They are typically referred to as spending or expenditures.
Used in a sentence: “The U.S. government posted the widest monthly budget surplus in more than five years in June, as spending plunged 47 percent and a stronger economy lifted tax receipts, the Treasury Department said.
Receipts exceeded outlays by $116.5 billion last month, the biggest surplus since April 2008, compared with a $59.7 billion deficit in June 2012, the Treasury said today in Washington. The result exceeded the $115 billion median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of 21 economists.” -Bloomberg
History: Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the United States Constitution states:
“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.”
In a textbook budget process, the President proposes a budget to Congress on a yearly basis in the beginning February. Subsequently, both the House and Senate propose and pass their own budgets and reconcile them to set “top-line” numbers for the relevant accounts within the federal government. These “budgets resolutions,” are not signed by the President, and do not carry the force of law. From these numbers, the House and Senate appropriations committees divide the allocations among the 12 subcommittees, thus determining the actual funding levels for each agency and program. These bills are signed by the President and carry the force of law. From this process the federal government is authorized to produce expenditures or outlays to pay for the programs necessary to continue government operations.