Posted by: Dan Beucke on October 31, 2011 at 5:00 PM
It’s looking dicey for the Congressional “super committee” that’s charged with slicing $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. If it falls on its face, as many people believe, expect the talk about “class war” to be joined by charges of “generational war.”
A failure by the committee to come up with a plan in the next three weeks — or Congress to pass a plan by Dec. 23 — forces massive cuts in discretionary programs while protecting the two entitlement programs nearest and dearest to the hearts of older Americans: Social Security and Medicare. Because those two programs together accounted for more than 40% of federal expenditures in 2010, the bulk of the cuts will fall on spending for defense and — according to some analyses — children and education.
That’s the gist of a story today from Bloomberg, which cites research by the nonpartisan Federal Funds Information for States and other groups. To quote the piece:
Title 1 funding for low-income students, the Head Start health and nutrition program, Child Welfare Services, and vaccines are among items likely to be hit by the automatic cuts if a congressional panel can’t agree on a debt-reduction package of at least $1.2 trillion.
Kids lose out for a couple reasons: 1) they don’t vote and seniors do, 2) their advocacy groups don’t have the lobbying muscle of AARP. Political budget gridlock also works for seniors and against kids, as Republicans refuse tax increases to fund discretionary spending and Democrats block spending cuts for entitlement programs. To quote Bob Bixby, head of the Concord Coalition: “You’ve got a ‘hell no’ to benefit cuts and ‘hell no’ to tax increases, and those are two very powerful political constituencies.” AARP is “squeezing the heck out of the future” and “programs for kids,” he told Bloomberg. (AARP responds that “as long as members of Congress continue to target seniors and future retirees as if they were mere line items in a budget, we can’t have a conversation about how to strengthen Medicare and Social Security.”)
The question of how age groups should share the burden of debt reduction was bubbling away long before the GOP House decided to play chicken with the debt ceiling. The recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform issued last fall arguably gave Baby Boomers a pass. And Michael Kinsley kicked up a storm with his Atlantic magazine cover story that suggested using a massive tax on Boomers’ “unearned inheritance” to cover the federal budget deficit.
But does this really qualify as “war”? Maybe more like a sideshow, reflecting the election cycle and the power of denial in Washington. Congress may whiff this time, but no one who’s serious about the budget deficit believes it can be brought into line without eventually trimming the two big retirement programs. And if that doesn’t happen, future generations will have a much bigger gripe against their elders than cuts in school spending.
(Photographer: Martin Palm / Link Image)