Balancing and Cutting Budgets

Metaphors based on physical forces are some of the most common metaphors used in English.  In politics, two common concepts are balancing or cutting the budget.


Two objects of equal weight are said to be in balance if weighed on a scale. Metaphorically, costs and situations that are of equal quantity or quality are also said to be in balance.

balanced budget

Example: The U.S. government is always striving to lower the national debt and balance the budget.

trade balances

Countries both import and export goods.  If a country imports more good than it exports it will end up losing money.  Thus countries try to make sure the number of imports is the same as the number of exports.  This is called a trade balance.

Example: It is difficult for the United States to maintain a trade balance with China since we import so many goods from there.

hang in the balance

In an odd phrase, we speak of the fate of some decision or process as hanging in the balance as if the two sides of a scale are tipping back and forth.

Example: In 2012, the legality of Barack Obama’s health care policy hung in the balance until it was approved by the Supreme Court.

tipping point

In another sense of balance, we speak of an object balancing on the edge of something.  The point at which the object falls in one direction or the other is called the tipping point.  Metaphorically, the tipping point is the time or event when a decision is made one way or another.

Example: Many Americans do not vote in presidential elections.  While they may be interested in government, often the tipping point of staying home is when they realize that the president or members of Congress are not doing their jobs.


The act of cutting involves a sharp object removing a piece of an object from a larger base, as in cutting a piece of paper with a scissors.  In common terms, we may also speak of cutting budgets, staff, or programs by reducing their size.

Example: The economic crisis of 2007 led to many budget cuts in state and local governments around the country.


Another word for cut is slash, but the latter term implies a more drastic or violent cutting action.

Example: Conservative politicians are always arguing that we should slash government spending to reduce the national debt.


Yet another word similar to cut is to gouge, but this term implies a digging motion in addition to the cutting action, as in gouging out a knot out of a piece of wood.  Metaphorically, any deep cut may be referred to as gouging.

Example: When gas prices rise, many American citizens claim that the oil companies are gouging consumers to make more profits for themselves.

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