Sequestration 2013: How to Make Sure the Debt Crisis Doesn't Sink Millennials


Millennials are about to get hit hard, again, when across-the-board cuts in the budget sequester take effect on Friday. Yes, we need to reduce our long-term deficits. But we also need to do so in a generationally-balanced way that does not sacrifice high value investments in our future, such as education, research, and infrastructure. 

To date, nearly 100% of recent budget cuts have come from non-defense discretionary spending, which makes up less than 20% of our budget. The sequester will cut an additional $375 billion in discretionary spending over the next decade, reducing that part of the budget to its smallest size (2.7% of GPD) on record by 2023. Meanwhile, the true drivers of our debt, namely entitlement spending on an aging population with rising health care costs, have gone untouched.

On our current path, consumption today will continue to crowd out investment in our future and our debt will continue to grow on an unsustainable trajectory. There is no doubt that the status quo will sink our generation. 

With this motivation, a few dozen leaders and organizers of The Can Kicks Back from across the country are headed to meetings with leaders on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. We will urge Congress to replace the sequester with a larger, but smarter deficit re-education agreement of at least $2.4 trillion that couples meaningful changes to entitlement programs with pro-growth tax reform. Such an agreement would achieve the critical goal of putting our debt on a clear, downward path relative to the economy.

In making this argument to leaders of both parties in both chambers, we will also be recommending three ideas to ensure a future debt deal is fair to our generation (download the blueprint):

1) Millennials should be invited to testify before the House and Senate Budget Committees to offer our own ideas of how to address the debt in hearings dedicated to examining the impact this issue will have on young Americans. The average age of a U.S. Representative is 57 and the average age of a U.S. Senator is 62; young people deserve a seat at the table if our leaders care about their “children and grandchildren” as much as they say they do.

2) The Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office should utilize the practice of “generational accounting” to score the impact on future generations of current policy and proposed changes. Among other things, such accounting will demonstrate in plain math the future tax burdens on the young and unborn in order to close the gap between projected revenue and expenditures. As it stands, it’s too easy for leaders to ignore the long-term consequences of today’s decisions.

3) Congress should adopt a recommendation of the Simpson/Bowles commission and establish a “Cut-and-Invest Committee” that would cut targeted wasteful or redundant discretionary spending and, at the same time, redirect an equal value of spending from low-priority area into high-value investments. Congress should do this on an annual basis, either as part of the sequester or part of a larger package to the extent that further discretionary cuts are necessary.

These could be three small, but smart steps toward solvency and, importantly, a generationally equitable solution. It is important to keep in mind that the end goal of fixing our debt is to grow our economy – so that young people can find jobs, pay for school, afford a home, and live in a country where we are still making the right investments in things we care about.

Our generation rightly expects our leaders to stop kicking the can and start working together to solve this problem. And with more young people under 30 voting in the 2012 election than senior citizens, we think politicians are ready to start listening.

Ryan Schoenike and Nick Troiano are two co-founders of The Can Kicks Back, a non-partisan, Millennial-driven campaign to fix the national debt and reclaim our American Dream.