WASHINGTON -- House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn has emerged as the defender of the poor and elderly on the deficit-reduction panel weighing deep spending cuts, balking at a plan by other Democrats on the "supercommittee" because, he said, it trims Medicare too much.

The Democratic plan, crafted by Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, would lower the federal deficit by $4 trillion by combining spending cuts with increased government revenues, much more than the $1.2 trillion cut required by the early August law that raised the debt ceiling and set up the panel.

But even though Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, supports a mix of new revenue and spending cuts, he said he can't support the Baucus plan because it would reduce benefits to Medicare recipients by $200 billion over a decade.

"Certainly I've said everything ought to be on the table," said Clyburn, from South Carolina. "But I'm not going to say that the entire budget ought to be balanced on the backs of people who do receive Medicare while extremely wealthy people don't pay their share of taxes."

Baucus and his aides declined to comment on Clyburn's statements.

Clyburn said he is protecting not only the poor, but also the growing number of Americans at risk of sliding out of the middle class as the economy makes a fitful recovery from the Great Recession that began in December 2007.

In hearing after hearing, Clyburn has criticized a growing wealth gap in the United States.

The nine-term lawmaker has cited data from the Congressional Budget Office, the U.S. Census and other agencies showing that the wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans has almost tripled over the last generation, while the poorest 20 percent has seen an increase of just 18 percent and the middle 60 percent has experienced a rise of 40 percent.

"It is just plain wrong to put all the burden of debt and deficit reduction on the elderly, the middle class and the poor," Clyburn said at one panel session. "Recent studies indicate that there is a growing wealth gap in this country that is squeezing the middle class and pushing millions into poverty."