Why no one's relieved about the debt ceiling deal

The good news is that our country narrowly dodged a bullet when congressional leaders and the White House were able to agree on a compromise deal to raise the debt ceiling. The plan will raise the debt ceiling through 2012 and achieve the $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction. The bad news is what we're all bracing for next.

A 12-member special committee of lawmakers must find up to $1.5 trillion -- with a "T"-- in spending cuts by Thanksgiving. The immediate cuts did not include the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, but they may be cut by the special committee. Either way, there is no avoiding the fact that critical safety net programs will face deep cuts that will make already vulnerable families even more so. 

If the committee fails to come up with a solution, or if Congress fails to adopt it, the deal triggers an "Armageddon" of even more intense budget cuts. Government spending would be cut across the board by $1.2 trillion over 10 years, with the reductions split 50-50 between domestic and defense programs. That's not a good deal for anyone.

And despite Democrats' and the President's insistence that the deal include revenue-raising provisions to offset the spending cuts, they were completely excluded from the bill. Millionaires and billionaires will not be asked to pay their fair share. Instead, the cuts will fall squarely on the backs of middle- and low-income families, and children will inevitably suffer.  

Bill Bentley, president and CEO of Voices for America's Children and a DC Action board member, made this somber statement in a press release: “All Americans agree on the importance of raising the debt ceiling so our nation would not default on its financial obligations. What many of us don’t agree on is that children and families who can least afford it will be ‘paying’ for this bill through fewer early childhood programs, higher college loan costs and cuts to other programs so crucial to our children’s success. ”

It is not only "disappointing," as Bentley says, but downright shameful.

What's worse, this deal has set a precedent for future wrangling over the debt ceiling. Republican leaders are already promising to take their gloves off for the next go-round -- in 2013. Read this blog post by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities'  to see what that could look like. Hint: It's not pretty.