Rep. Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) listened a while and then wryly told Budget Director David A. Stockman: "If the elderly were listening they would think you were conferring a blessing on them by making these cuts."
Pepper, chairman of the House Committee on the Aging and at 80 the oldest member of Congress, had invited Stockman, the 34-year-old author of the Reagan administration spending cuts, to tell his committee their impact on senior citizens.
Pepper's own view is that the cuts represent a "blueprint for diseaster" that would cut back health, housing, nutrition and legal-aid programs for the elderly poor.
But Stockman insisted that the Reagan program is "adequate and generous" to senior citizens. Once it is put into effect, he said, they would fare better than any other segment of the population because inflation would be cut in half and that would most benefit retired people on fixed incomes.
Stockman said federal aid to the elderly would increase under the Reagan program from $144 billion last year to $191 billion next year, an increase in uninflated dollars of about 7 percent. The percentage of the federal budget going to the elderly would increase from 24.9 percent last year to 27.4 percent next year, he said.
But Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio) noted that more than half the $191 billion Stockman said would go to older people in federal aid next year would be Social Security benefits that they had paid for during their working years. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) added that if Social Security payments were excluded and a realistic inflation level assumed, federal aid to the elderly actually would be cut under the Reagan program.
Pepper's committee did its own analysis of the impact of Reagan's spending cuts on senior citizens and said it could mean "sharp reductions" in health care because of the proposed cap on Medicaid, an outright loss of food stamps to 125,000 and the denial of an increase to offset higher health costs to another 920,000 a reduction in housing assistance to 727,000. loss of legal to 187,000 and abolition of the CETA program that has given jobs to 50,000 senior citizens.
Stockman told Pepper that while he could assure the committee that the Reagan program would in the main not hurt the needy there might be "unanticipated adverse impact" that the pending congressional review could correct. He said the administration would not insist on every detail of the spending cuts as submitted to Congress but would not want to total cuts reduced.
If Congress decided to make changes it should make up for any spending increases by cutting elsewhere in the federal budget, Stockman said. He expressed the hope this would not be done by "creative accounting" methods that assume savings from better administrations.