Basically two factors drive the deficit: health care and defense spending.
As to health care, despite being the richest country in the world, the United States is the only wealthy nation on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its citizens, leaving some 50 million uninsured (Rabin, Roni Caryn. 2010. “Number of Uninsured Rises, Report Says.” The New York Times. November 16.; also, “the United States spent $6,401 per capita on health care in 2005 – more than double the median per capita expenditure ($2,922) of the thirty industrialized countries” in the OECD (Anderson, Gerard and Bianca Frogner. 2008. “Health Spending in OECD Countries: Obtaining Value per Dollar.” Health Affairs 27. 1718-1727. :1718)). Consequently, the United States has the highest infant mortality among rich countries (CDC. 2008. “Recent Trends in Infant Mortality in the United States.” http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/da
Myriad reasons, including a few red herrings, are offered for the bizarre structure of the American health care system. It is important to note that the current health care is not the result of Americans’ personal preferences; on the contrary, the system is patently undemocratic, with a large majority of Americans consistently expressing a desire for universal health coverage:
An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll found that ‘over 2/3 of all Americans thought the government should guarantee ‘everyone’ the best and most advanced health care that technology can supply’; a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 80 percent regard universal health care as ‘more important than holding down taxes’; polls reported in Business Week found that ‘67% of Americans think it’s a good idea to guarantee health care for all U.S. citizens, as Canada and Britain do, with just 27% dissenting’; the Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Americans favor the ‘U.S. government guaranteeing health insurance for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes’ (30 percent opposed). (Chomsky, Failed States, 2007:225)
Quoting Princeton economic Uwe Reinhardt, Mahar (Money-Driven Medicine, 2006:81) notes that “the aging population accounts for ‘only about 10% of the recent growth in real hospital spending.’” Lawsuits are also unfairly demonized, as “malpractice payments represent less than 0.5 percent of health spending” (2006:xvi). More reasonable explanations are offered by viewing the American health care system through as an inefficient economic system. If we had universal health care, like every other rich country in the world, and in accord with the democratic values of the American people, our long-term budget deficits would almost disappear: http://www.cepr.net/calcul
Defense spending is a similar issue, and the facts are much better known. Nearly half of our budget is spent on imperial wars ("freedom") or the debt from past ones (http://www.globalissues.or
Serious attempts to address the deficit would deal with our bloated, inefficient health care system and our disastrous national "defense" policies. So the cuts in very popular social services are an attempt not to address the deficit but to use the recession to redistribute wealth from the people to the top 1%, who, despite having achieved the highest level of inequality in American history, want even more.