Countless battles are being waged behind the closed doors of the Congressional deficit-reduction super committee, which has less than a month to strike an agreement on reducing federal spending by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
But while the committee members battle secretly over taxing the rich or cutting programs for the poor, the automatic cuts that will take affect if the committee fails to reach an agreement would create a greater imbalance between the old and the young than between the wealthy and the poor.
“When push comes to shove they are going to cut programs for the kids,” said Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. “Elected officials, they don’t want to mess with the elderly. Not only are they a huge constituency, but relative to many other constituencies they are well organized.”
The two of the three major entitlement programs, Social Security and Medicaid, will remain untouched by the automatic cuts, which would kick in for the 2013 fiscal year budget if the super committee fails to create a deficit-reduction plan that passes through Congress.
The third big-dollar entitlement program, Medicare, would be cut a maximum of 2 percent, or about $11 billion in the fiscal year 2013 budget, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.
The vast majority of the back-up plan cuts would fall on discretionary spending, with half of the $109 billion yearly cuts coming from defense spending.
There are few concrete details on how the remaining $55 billion would be cut, but a report by the Federal Funds Information for States, which does budget analyses for the National Governor’s Association, shows that cuts to children’s programs would likely far outpace cuts to programs for the elderly.
Taking into account likely budget reductions for public education, Child Welfare Services, Child care subsidies and the low-income infant nutrition program known as WIC, the younger generation lose about $5 billion in federal funding, according to the report.
About $250 million would be cut from programs aimed toward seniors, such as the Administration on Aging and housing for the elderly.
“I don’t think Congress on either end understands the consequence of their inaction,” James Jones, an Oklahoma Democrat and former House Budget Committee chairman told Bloomberg. “You’re creating generational war.”
Paul Van de Water, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities who studies federal fiscal policy, said that because the well-being of older generations is so connected to the well-being of their younger family members it is virtually impossible to separate the impact of cuts to the elderly from cuts to the young.
“We are all in this together,” Van de Water said. “I don’t think of things in terms of my mother versus my granddaughter.”
Eric Kingson, the co-director of Social Security Works, said that pitting one generation against the other is a political maneuver and that most Americans “think fairly well” of other generations.
“We don’t have generational warfare, but we do have a lot of people beating the drums trying to create generational warfare and that’s dangerous,” Kingson said. “The divisiveness being put forward is further poison in our politics.”