Fixing America Will Take Sacrifice

Member Group : Jerry Shenk

Profligate, dysfunctional political operators are destroying American governments, but with a complicit citizenry.

To win and hold office, generations of American politicians — of both parties — encouraged unrealistic expectations among receptive citizens by promising more than government can consistently and sustainably deliver.

Though some don’t realize it, most Americans are in some way dependent upon government. As governments fail, many are victimized. Without genuine reforms, we will all be victims.

Today, unsustainable entitlements are "mandatory" expenditures, and "discretionary" government expenditures, many of them constitutionally unsupportable, are relentlessly compounded by baseline budgeting.
The numbers are staggering. In 2010, 49 percent of American households – undoubtedly more today – received direct benefits from one or more federal programs.

The largest programs are familiar: Social Security (2011: 60,400,000), Medicaid (2012 estimated: 72,820,000), Medicare (2012 estimated: 49,435,600) and the food stamp program (2012: 46.600,000).

In four years, food stamp recipients increased by more than a third, and Baby Boomers began swelling the rolls of Social Security and Medicare. Smaller, less familiar entitlements and other means-tested assistance programs cover more than 60 million individuals, many redundantly. Fraud is common in every program.
Politicians have created a permanent American underclass accustomed to receiving its livelihoods from one or more government programs. Between 1989 and 2008, annual spending for means-tested programs increased by nearly 300 percent, and, beginning in 2009, all means-tested programs exploded.

Undocumented, but participating resident aliens add head count and costs.
The problem of inflated expectations is larger and more complex than entitlements and public welfare. Direct benefit information excludes groups receiving indirect government benefits. Census Bureau data excludes tax breaks for industries, businesses and individuals. And it disregards taxpayer subsidies for farmers, sugar refiners and wind energy, among other politically-favored recipients.

For example, employees of Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and recipients of other "cultural" expenditures indirectly benefit from taxpayer-funded handouts. The massive 2009 stimulus bailed out union pension plans and pensioners at taxpayer expense, and temporarily papered over state and municipal government budget shortfalls and failures.

The 70,000+ page United States tax code contains thousands of deals for special interests and constituencies. Some business tax breaks, like the preferential tax status of employer-provided health insurance, filter down to individuals. Among numerous other examples, about one-quarter of the roughly 50 percent of Americans who pay federal income taxes itemize home mortgage interest on their returns.

Adding tax-break recipients — including employees and families of companies receiving other indirect benefits and subsidies — to the numbers receiving government cash payouts and direct benefits, the number of people receiving government benefits may exceed three-quarters of Americans — more than 235 million.

Politicians have so broadly encouraged government dependency that correcting America’s problems will require general sacrifice.

Deficits expand an unhealthy national debt. Overspending and entitlements are destroying the futures of our kids and grandkids. Government is too large, too unwieldy, too inefficient, too corrupt — and largely unaccountable. The size and reach of government makes self-correction unlikely. The fixes must be legislated, yet most politicians lack the will to make necessary changes.

To be fair, aside from loyalties to generous special interests, politicians usually mirror the mood of their constituencies. Though there’s a notion that many favor tax reform or reducing deficits and the national debt, so far, few Americans appear willing to relinquish the benefits, tax breaks and subsidies they enjoy. Most Americans say they favor change, but, as a practical matter, desire it only at the expense of others.

If/when America defaults, the truly disabled and dependent will suffer most grievously. Able-bodied Americans who, through poor choices, have unnecessarily allowed themselves to become dependent on government will receive little relief and less sympathy.

The same politicians who promote legislation for "the children," "seniors" and "the poorest among us" have abdicated their responsibility to preserve the programs upon which they have made these groups dependent.

In answer to the crises they created, Washington politicians cynically demagogue responsible proposals to return America to fiscal sanity, to sustainably renew entrenched entitlement programs and create a healthier, more prosperous nation. Predictably, they do so for the same motive which initially created the benefits — perceived political advantage.

Changes, managed or involuntary, are inevitable. Government austerity plus regulatory, entitlement, tax and welfare reforms are essential components of change. It’s always better to accept and manage changes than to suffer unnecessarily. If elected representatives won’t effect changes, voters must change representatives – or suffer the consequences.