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Budget Bullets: Budget Bullets

New Series Looks at How to Reduce the National Deficit Through Smart Cuts that Make Government Better

SOURCE: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The Treasury Building is seen in Washington. The United States faces a nearly $1.5 trillion federal deficit that will require making smart decisions about where to cut spending.

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The Center for American Progress’s Doing What Works team is launching a weekly series that summarizes our suggestions for how to reduce the national deficit while boosting government efficiency—not gutting essential services. This overview is the first installment. Check back next Wednesday for the next installment.

The United States faces a nearly $1.5 trillion federal deficit caused by past fiscal mismanagement and exacerbated by the Great Recession. Congress and the executive branch will have to make smart decisions about where to cut spending and raise revenue to bring down our long-term deficits without jeopardizing economic growth and American competitiveness. The Center for American Progress’s budget plan targets wasteful spending while efficiently investing in areas critical to economic growth, such as education, infrastructure, and science.

We must cut what’s broken and unnecessary, and maximize taxpayer returns on investment

  • Spending programs that are outdated or ineffective, such as many agriculture subsidies, should be eliminated or reformed.
  • We can often save money and improve results by consolidating overlapping government programs and initiatives, as the Government Accountability Office suggested in March.
  • We must embrace innovative solutions like the administration’s proposed “pay for success” bonds, which ensure taxpayers only pay for social programs that work.
  • We should redirect some budget-cut savings to smart investments in education, infrastructure, and science that boost economic growth and American competitiveness.

We must tackle big-ticket items such as defense and tax earmarks, and continue cost-saving reforms in health care

pie chart showing 81 percent of the budget is defense and entitlements

  • We can’t balance the budget just by cutting nondefense, nonentitlement spending, which accounted for merely 19 percent of direct federal spending in 2010.
  • We can save hundreds of billions of dollars a year by making surgical cuts to defense and implementing health care reforms, without reducing military readiness or compromising patient care.
  • We must also cut wasteful tax earmarks, which cost more than $1.2 trillion a year and disproportionally benefit the rich and special interests.

We can save billions by improving government’s internal operations

  • We can save between $25 billion and $54 billion a year by reforming the way the federal government buys goods and services.
  • We can save billions more by moving to cloud computing and making other reforms to government information technology.
  • Reducing improper payments in programs like Medicare will save at least $50 billion by 2012, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Reece Rushing is Director of Government Reform at American Progress.

Also from the Budget Bullets series:

To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:

Print: Liz Bartolomeo (poverty, health care)
202.481.8151 or

Print: Tom Caiazza (foreign policy, energy and environment, LGBT issues, gun-violence prevention)
202.481.7141 or

Print: Allison Preiss (economy, education)
202.478.6331 or

Print: Tanya Arditi (immigration, Progress 2050, race issues, demographics, criminal justice, Legal Progress)
202.741.6258 or

Print: Chelsea Kiene (women's issues,, faith)
202.478.5328 or

Print: Beatriz Lopez (Center for American Progress Action Fund)
202.741.6255 or

Spanish-language and ethnic media: Rafael Medina
202.478.5313 or

TV: Rachel Rosen
202.483.2675 or

Radio: Sally Tucker
202.481.8103 or


This is part of a regular column: Budget Bullets

For more from the same column, click here