NOW THAT the supercommittee charged with reducing our nation's debt has failed, a series of automatic budget cuts - cuts that will harm our children - is scheduled to go into effect beginning in 2013.

The Budget Control Act passed by Congress in August established that the absence of a compromise agreement would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts spread over 10 years, split equally between defense and nondefense discretionary spending.

Reports from the Congressional Budget Office and other organizations show that nonexempt discretionary programs could be cut by as much as 9 percent in 2013 (mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps are protected from cuts).

As a result, education, health, early-childhood, housing and a whole range of other programs that help children will suffer. We must remind members of Congress that premature baby Emma may not overcome developmental challenges in time to be ready for kindergarten if WIC, a critical nutrition program for young children, is cut; Ashley will have to drop out of college - with the burden of loan debt from her initial two years - if tuition aid is slashed; and Michael's family may end up at a homeless shelter if Dad's unemployment benefits run out and they are evicted.

Without adequate funding for basic supports, too many children will suffer and fall behind, and some will never catch up. Given the polarized climate in the nation's capital, the backup automatic provision was seen by some as necessary to ensure deficit reduction. But the inclusion of this safety valve gave far too much away. Not only did it perpetuate Congress' inability to compromise, but this tactic left revenue increases out of the equation so that "savings" will come entirely from spending cuts.

Automatic cuts, like proposals to cap spending, are not panaceas for reversing our nation's debt problems. Instead, they help legislators on both sides of the aisle avoid criticism. Some will take credit for delivering on the "no new taxes" pledges. Others will stress that their vote was an overall deal and not on specific program cuts. All will distance themselves from the social damage that the cuts inflict. But we must not let them.

Congress still has the opportunity to lessen the blow by balancing spending cuts with revenue increases - closing tax loopholes and/or raising taxes on high-income households. Their duty is not only to control spending, but also to ensure that our nation has the resources to invest in its priorities. Instead of cutting at all costs, we must urge our elected officials to prioritize common goals, build our economy, and prepare our children for the future.

The American people support a balanced approach that includes both spending cuts and new revenues. If enough members choose to rise above partisan politics and make the necessary difficult choices, they'll still have every opportunity to reach a fair deal that balances spending and revenue, the needs of the young and old, and the demands of our present and our future for the good of the country as a whole.

Shame on Congress if members hide behind automatic triggers based on a cuts-only approach that will damage crucial programs, jeopardize economic recovery, and shortchange our future workforce. And shame on us if we let them get away with it.

Kathy Fisher

Economic security associate

Public Citizens for Children and Youth