To listen to certain talk-radio hosts, cutting spending is simple--cut a few silly grants here and there, stop some subsidies, and suddenly we have a balanced budget. But this post from the Cato Institute's blog suggests the fundamental problem. Poll data suggests that the American people are willing to make cuts in certain areas; in fact, a majority would be happy to see foreign aid slashed. But foreign aid makes up only a tiny percentage of the budget; eliminating it entirely--and most would probably balk at cutting all funds to Israel, Afghanistan, and Iraq, which together represent more than a third of foreign-aid spending--would make virtually no difference to the bottom line.
So where does all the money go? It's not hard to figure out. The Department of Defense and Social Security alone add up to well over a third of the total budget. Medicare and Medicaid make up nearly 20 percent more. Of course, those things will never be substantially cut; on the contrary, they will undoubtedly grow tremendously in the next twenty years. (I realize that the health care bill calls for cuts to Medicare, but a) I don't believe that Congress will really make those cuts, and b) all of the resulting "savings" would simply go into another government pot.) Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are, unfortunately, popular, and Republican control of Congress would probably lead to increases in defense spending.
In other words, to quote John Derbyshire, "we are doomed."