Different shades of gray
Each month the Sun Advocate presents two views of the same subject as columnists Terry Willis and Tom McCourt see it.
Well the federal government just voted to raise the debt ceiling another $781 billion dollars. Our country's total debt is approaching a staggering $9 trillion dollars. That's trillion with a T. Where is this money going? It certainly isn't going to social programs.
In each session of congress, as well as in our local legislative sessions, politicians continue to erode systems that are in place to help and sustain the quality of living for many of the most vulnerable in our society.
The poor are certainly an easy target to go after. They have little clout with elected officials. They seem to take more than they give back to our society and it is easy to believe that they are a lazy group who could take care of themselves if they wanted to. There probably is a bit of truth to all of that.
But what about the children who can't make choices for themselves yet? They make up the largest chunk of people living in poverty. Also what about the elderly who worked hard their entire life believing that social security and their pensions would take care of them in their final years? Many had no clue they would need to save more to pay for spiraling medical and living costs. What choice is it when you have to buy either your medications or food? Over a third of all personal bankruptcies are the result of a medical crisis, not poor management of credit card debt.
As we boast about our human rights record to other countries, we need to make sure we are really taking care of business at home. Our social programs have problems. I agree with the conservative view that there should not be a free ride for people who can pull their own weight. A good social program should allow a person to have dignity while they are provided real opportunities to achieve a level of success. These types of programs cannot happen when funding is continually pulled and cut.
In a record tax revenue year, the Utah legislature cut the funding to Medicaid that covers adult dental care. They did this about 20 years ago and found that they ended up spending more money in the long run when small, fixable problems turned into major medical issues.
Funding to assist low income parents with day care has also been slashed over the past few years. At the same time we are asking mothers to return to the workplace before the kids are barely mobile.
Drug court is a program that has proven its worth in truly allowing individuals to stay off of drugs. Year after year the state cannot find funding to make it a reality in every community. The cost of not finding a better way to treat drug abuse is staggering.
I want more money in my pocket. But the way to save is not to cut programs that help people improve their lives. Data shows that there are more families using the homeless shelter this year than ever before. Many of the families using the shelter are also holding a job.
Workforce service programs took major cuts to the programs that are labeled as general assistance programs. I asked the local staff if they see many people cheating or abusing the system. They report there are a few, but most who use their services are really trying to improve themselves.
We can't expect people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps when many don't even have boots. None of us gained our success alone. The cost to our society when people lose hope is enormous. The best way to a rich and prosperous nation is for us all to be able to support ourselves and to help others achieve the same level of success.
How much is enough?
In 2005, 58 percent of our national budget went to social programs. Everything else the government did, from national defense, highways, foreign aid, and the cost of running the government, was paid out of the remaining 42 percent.
Social programs include everything from Social Security and Medicare, to family planning and after school basketball, with numberless programs, large and small, in between. In the last fiscal year alone, the federal government spent $2.3 trillion of our tax dollars. At 58 percent, social spending was $1.33 trillion. That too is trillion with a "T." It calculates to about $4,700 for every man, woman, and child in the country.
I do believe there is ample room to cut back on social spending.
We have social welfare programs at every level of government and society. Federal, state and local agencies often have duplicate and overlapping programs. We have things like government-subsidized childcare, utility and rent programs, subsidized housing and education programs. We have homeless shelters, drug rehab, food banks, food stamps, free lunch at school, and free abortions. The list goes on and on.
Our laws mandate that no one can be turned down for health care if they can't pay. And on top of all that, we have church sponsored programs and civic organizations that have welfare and outreach programs as well.
As a nation, we donate more to charity than any other people, anywhere, at any time in world history. We give billions of dollars to our own citizens and to other nations. The poorest of the poor in this country live affluent lives compared to most other countries in the world.
Before the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the new deal of the 1930s, federal spending for social programs was almost zero. By 1948 it was 10 percent of the national budget. Last year it hit 58 percent and is still climbing.
In light of this trend, I think it is time to reassess what we want from government. Do we want government to be a roof over our house of freedom and free enterprise, or do we want socialism? We can't have both for very long.
We can continue to be the economic powerhouse of the world with a free-market economy and endless opportunity for all, or we can become a stagnant, cradle-to-grave welfare state like most of Europe. In my humble opinion, socialism is nothing more than communism-light. For those of you who don't remember, communism is social and economic slavery.
Traditionally, the role of democratic government has been to provide for the common defense, make and enforce laws for the peace and good of all the people, and to regulate commerce. Social programs are not even mentioned in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Families, churches, and benevolent orders took care of the poor and the needy in the early days of our nation. I think we need to begin a journey back there.
With a nine trillion dollar deficit and more than half of our national budget going to social, welfare, and entitlement programs, the writing is on the wall. Social programs are bankrupting our country. The tax burden we leave to our children will be unbearable.
Unless we begin to cut back now, America as we have known it won't be with us much longer.