Politics Counts: The Cliff in Red and Blue Counties

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Hyperbole is a staple of Washington political discourse – particularly on the negative side. Speeches are full of references to  “disasters” and “catastrophes” that are lurking just around the corner. But sequestration, the much-discussed “fiscal cliff,” is the rare case where the hazards on the horizon look very real and very far-reaching.

The impact of the cuts that would come if the government cannot reach a compromise on a debt reduction plan by January – more than 8% in discretionary funding by estimates – would stretch far beyond the Beltway.

When voters think of government austerity, the talk often centers on the halls of congress or the federal agencies that line the Mall in Washington, but that misses the point. The money that comes out of the capital finds its way into cities and towns across the country — and cutting it sharply would affect not only the national macroeconomy, but thousands of smaller microeconomic stories.

The map above was created with data from the 2010 Consolidated Federal Funds Report, which for years tracked federal spending in all its forms – from salaries to grants – down to the county level. (The annual report was de-funded this spring). And when you look at federal spending through this filter, you realize a few things about sequestration.

First, while people on the right side of the political spectrum generally drive the talk of cutting government, some of the “reddest” states in American politics are bringing home a lot of federal green.

If you look at the top 15 states in terms of total federal spending per capita, eight of them voted for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. That’s not to say voters in those places are suddenly going to come out against slashing government, but it does suggest that they’ll have particular ideas about what government programs and/or departments they want slashed. One voter’s boondoggle is another’s life-support system. For the rest of this Politics Counts column, please visit the Wall Street Journal's website.