There are two metaphorical tools that politicians claim to use in cutting a budget—a scalpel (for small, surgical cuts, causing the least harm) and a machete (for massive cuts). Unless the budget problem is severe, the politicians usually claim to be using a scalpel.
The scalpel/machete metaphor has been cited in print since at least 1960. U.S. President Barack Obama further popularized the scalpel/machete metaphor in budget speeches given in 2011.
Before the scalpel/machete choice, the most popular way to cut a budget had been to use a budget axe.
10 May 1960, Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent, “it’s Hard, but Public Spending Can be Cut” by John Wyngaard, pg. 6, col. 7:
It is the fashion to say that retrenchment, if it is necessary, ought to be done precisely, with the scalpel rather than the machete, as some of the critics have put it.
21 March 1961, Janesville (WI) Daily Gazette, “Even Studious, Intelligent Attack on Growing Budget Fails to Dent Huge Total” by John Wyngaard, pg.6, col. 8:
Where once they demanded the outright abolition of some public services of doubtful legitimacy, as they interpreted it, they now know that they will be better received by demanding that the legislators “hold the line” on such outlays. They have learned to substitute the scalpel for the machete.
Google News Archive
17 October 1964, Eugene (OR) Register-Guard, “America’s Choice Here at Home,” pg. 4A, col. 1:
If the federal influence is to be cut back, and it should be, it should be cut with a scalpel, not a machete.
8 May 1975, Helena (MT) Independent Record, “Food stamp program needs to be revamped.” pg. 4, col. 1:
Since it takes three levels of government to filter the stamps to the recipients, it’s hard to decide whether one should use a scalpel or a machete to cut the red tape.
16 November 1980, New York (NY) Times, “Governors Press for New State Powers” by John Herbers, pg. 36:
Differences on Welfare
Even some long-time defenders of the multitude of Federal programs are entering the dialogue. Peter B. Edelman, an aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy in the recent Kennedy Presidential campaign, said that in some respects he agreed with Governor Babbitt’s concern about excessive Federal control, but he warned some of the principals in the movement against using a “machete rather than a scalpel” in changing the system.
Google News Archive
29 January 1981, Pittsburgh (PA) Post-Gazette, “Tax cut vs. budget cut: Debate goes on.” pg. 14, cols. 2-4:
But Walter W. Heller, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, argued that the Kemp-Roth bill would only serve to spur inflation by creating a greater demand for goods and services than the economy could accommodate.
Heller said that instead of the personal tax cut, “a more prudent course, one that would threaten less inflation and permit more deliberate action on budget cuts using a scalpel rather than a machete, would be to restructure the 1981 tax cut to put much more emphasis on tax incentives for investment and cost-cutting.”
Google News Archive
27 July 1982, The Courier (Prescott, AZ), pg. 14A, cols. 4-5:
Congress unlikely to change habits
White House will get its way until after elections
By BENJAMIN TAYLOR
But that cut, proposed by Rep. Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), was seen by many members who’d prefer a smaller defense budget as too radical a step, and it went down by a 348-55 margin. “That was a machete when what we needed was a scalpel,” said Rep. John Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.).
Still, it turned out that even the scalpel approach failed to draw much blood in the defense budget.
Real Clear Politics
February 15, 2011
Obama on Budget Cuts: A Scalpel, Not a Machete
By Scott Conroy
President Obama defended his proposed $3.73 trillion 2012 budget on Tuesday against criticisms that it would not go far enough in addressing the nation’s fiscal crisis in a manner that his own deficit commission suggested.
CBS News—Political Hotsheet
March 4, 2011 5:39 PM
Forget the machete, or the scalpel: Obama takes a butter knife to the budget
Posted by Chip Reid
President Obama said he’d take a scalpel to the budget instead of a machete. So far, though, he appears to be wielding a butter knife - trimming little more than soft edges.
Obama to offer “scalpel, not machete” for entitlement reform
posted at 9:30 am on April 11, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
Barack Obama has belatedly discovered that Americans want to see reductions in government spending.
FOX 9 News
Obama to Use Budget Scalpel, Not Machete
President criticizes Republican deficit proposal
Updated: Wednesday, 13 Apr 2011, 6:54 PM CDT
By Tom Lyden / FOX 9 News
President Barack Obama unveiled his plan to cut $4 trillion from the budget deficit on Wednesday, vowing to attack the problem with a scalpel—not a machete.
The stage is set for the federal deficit battle to begin, with the national debt ticking away at $14 trillion.
New York City • Government/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Wednesday, April 13, 2011 • Permalink