If I'm not mistaken, the Republican proposals (of this year) go that deep, at least for broad enough areas like "Labor-HHS-Education". I'm curious if there's any historical shade of plausibility for cuts this substantial. As I suspect the answer is "no", let me ask alternatively: what's the largest budget cut the US has seen in the past?

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    Actually the answer is "yes" but only right after WW2 (that cut was 40% in fact). factcheck.org/2011/04/biggest-budget-cut-in-u-s-history As for the non-military budget and other cuts... I'll let someone else summarize, as I'm a bit short on time right now.
    – Fizz
    Sep 30 at 3:07
  • I bet they didn't propose even a 1% cut to military spending, right? Well, maybe if they could find a few programs that they did not like, such as gender-affirming treatment for transgender soldiers or anti-bias training.
    – Obie 2.0
    Sep 30 at 3:13
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    As the two examples in your comment source are both right after WWI and WWII I suspect these cuts were almost enterily cuts to the military budget. I don't see why the US government should have cut spending on labor or education or similar topics right in the aftermaths of major wars.
    – quarague
    Sep 30 at 5:30
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    @quarague Ah, the good old days when wars actually ended and we could then scale down our military....
    – Barmar
    Oct 1 at 18:15
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    If there was not an answer already on the question I would suggest clarifying if you mean to include budget cuts due to end of war funding such as after WW1 (65% cut) and after WW2 (40% cut) according to the fact check article you linked
    – Joe W
    Oct 2 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


Question: Has the US government ever managed to cut 30% of its budget?

Short Answer:

Across the board, in one year? yes in both 1945 and 1946.


According to Federal Budget Receipts and Outlays

In 1945 the federal budget was $ 92.7 billion dollars, In 1946 the federal budget was cut to $ 55.2 Billion. This amounts to a 40% cut.

Again in In 1947 it was further cut to 34.5 Billion, a 37% cut from the previously mentioned budget from 1946.

Generally the way the U.S. has successfully managed it's debt is not by massively cutting federal spending. Generally spending is held steady, or very modest cuts are made, and economic growth transform the deficit into a revenue surplus over time.

Truman reduced the deficit or increased the budget surplus in 1947, 1950, and 1953. with modest spending cuts. In 47 he tripled the budget surplus.

Eisenhower turned deficit spending into a budget surplus in 1955, 1959 by modestly increasing spending.

LBJ likewise transformed a significant deficit in 1968 into a small surplus in 1969 by modestly increasing spending.

Bill Clinton modestly increased federal spending every year in office, while transforming a 203 billion dollar deficit into multi year surpluses (1998-2001).

President Obama cut the deficit in half over his 8 years in office mostly by holding federal spending relatively constant.

You see if the budget is cut too fast the economy (GDP growth) is hurt. Shrinking GDP compounds the overall effect of the debt. So it's better to address debt by measures which impact deficits, with slower modest changes. Holding spending relatively constant and growing the GDP and tax base, shrinking deficits and reducing the impact of debt.

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    Can you detail the spending cuts in 1945 and 1946 wihtin military and non-military ?
    – Evargalo
    Oct 2 at 13:35
  • As World War 2 ended September 2nd, 1945 it sounds like the cuts were all related to war time spending that was no longer needed after the war. I am guessing that is the cause of the first big cut and as post war activities finished up that is the cause of the second cut. While it still qualifies as a cut over 30% I think is is a special case and doesn't qualify in the spirit of the question.
    – Joe W
    Oct 2 at 16:35
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    And I am suggesting that while it is a correct answer it isn't in the spirit of the question. Of course you are going to have a massive cut in a budget when a large chunk of it was war spending that no is no longer happening. It is much harder to make large cuts to the budget when you are cutting on going spending versus cutting spending that is going away because it is no longer being spent.
    – Joe W
    Oct 2 at 17:54
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    Wikipedia cites what tracks back to the same data, and Factcheck has a writeup: factcheck.org/2008/02/the-budget-and-deficit-under-clinton - looks like there are several ways to track debt/deficits, and under both standard government and standard business ways he had some surplus years. Note we are talking Deficit, not Debt (and the causes are an interesting separate topic - for instance collapse of USSR and rollback of Great Depression protections factored in).
    – bharring
    Oct 3 at 13:58
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    @bharing, Yeah, I think what makes Clinton's surplus years so controversial is how he did it. Not only did he grow the economy, but he raised taxes considerable on the wealthy. Thus runs counter to what Republicans have been touting as fiscal responsibility for at least 40 years. They've been giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy, and running up huge deficits every time they achieve office. It's very convent for them to poke holes in the Clinton years financial success story, since it runs counter to everything the modern GOP has ever done economically.
    – user47010
    Oct 3 at 14:12

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