James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Why Is It So Hard to Cut Federal Spending?

by James M. Lindsay
December 21, 2012

(Bernardo Montoya/Courtesy Reuters) (Bernardo Montoya/Courtesy Reuters)


The New York Times published a chart today that succinctly explains why it is so hard to cut the federal government’s spending: the programs that people want to cut don’t cost very much, and the programs that cost a lot people don’t want to cut.

As Annie Lowrey points out in the story that accompanies the chart, if foreign aid were eliminated entirely ($22 billion) and all federal civilian workers took a 10 percent pay cut ($19 billion), the savings would be less than $50 billion. That is compared to an annual federal deficit that has topped $1 trillion in recent years.

As the chart shows, there is one big expense that the public is willing to cut—defense.  That is why the Defense Department, despite its many friends on Capitol Hill, is facing lean times and tough choices ahead.

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