Across the board cuts

February 18, 2014

Across the board cuts

Cutting spending across the board is one approach to budget reduction that is prominent in political discussion. An across the board (ATB) cut would reduce budgets of all departments, agencies, or programs by the same percentage. The 2013 federal budget sequester was a form of ATB cutting.

ATB cuts are popular in political debate because they seem simple, fair, and are easily communicated to the general public. Furthermore, they focus on reducing something that the public does not like (government spending in general), while avoiding a discussion of reducing what the public likes (specific public goods and services).

However, in practice, ATB cuts fail to differentiate between effective and ineffective programs, do not allow for any changes in policy priorities, and can cause problems with economies of scale and programs that come in discrete packages, like prisons, roads, and universities. Thus, ATB cuts can be useful as political rhetoric to stimulate support for budget cutting, but they can present serious problems if actually implemented.


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Research Area: Fiscal and Economic Policy

Policy Initiative: none