I had my third child this summer and since my other two daughters are toddlers, I know something about dependence. My girls need my husband and me for everything: every meal, all their clothes, the roof over their heads. They depend on us for the basic needs of their existence and we provide it because that is the most fundamental part of being a parent.
This November, every voter faces a strangely similar choice: Do we want to be small children who are dependents of our elected leaders, or do we want to be independent adults.
The election of Barack Obama combined with Democratic majorities in the House and Senate at a time of near economic depression has led to the growth of government as caretaker because these lawmakers argue such assistance is the government’s proper role. But this administration and Congress have gone much further by taking choices away from individuals and taking control away from the private sector in a variety of other areas that have little to do with remedying our economic condition. The shift of power and control from private individuals and businesses to the government is being enacted because these elected leaders think the government knows better and can do better.
Today, more people depend on government handouts than ever before. Currently, one out of every six Americans is served by some government anti-poverty measure.
As USA Today reports, “More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid,” an increase of “at least 17 percent since the recession began in December 2007.”
More than 40 million people get food stamps, “an increase of nearly 50 percent during the economic downturn, according to government data through May.”
Welfare serves more than 4.4 million people, “an 18 percent increase during the recession.”
And then there is unemployment insurance. Some 10 million receive benefits, which is nearly quadruple the number from 2007. “Benefits have been extended by Congress eight times beyond the basic 26-week program, enabling the long-term unemployed to get up to 99 weeks of benefits. Caseloads peaked at nearly 12 million in January — “the highest numbers on record,” Christine Riordan of the National Employment Law Project told USA Today.
It isn’t as if these government programs are new, it’s just that none has ever been so generous. As he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Barro, an economics professor at Harvard and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, agrees that there should be a bigger jobless safety net during a downturn, but he explains that the current extensions have gone way too far. “In the past, this change entailed extensions to perhaps 39 weeks of eligibility from 26 weeks, though sometimes a bit more and typically conditioned on the employment situation in a person’s state of residence. However, we have never experienced anything close to the blanket extension of eligibility to nearly two years. We have shifted toward a welfare program,” Barro declared.
Perhaps if we were only talking about government anti-poverty assistance, and it was all going to be temporary, there wouldn’t be much of a difference between Democrats and Republicans because each party supports keeping these programs. It’s just a matter of how to pay for it all. But one problem, as Michael Tanner of the libertarian Cato institute explains, is that government anti-poverty programs are “much harder to unwind in the long term.” Moreover, the Democrats’ agenda has gone beyond assistance over into government control.
The new health care reform law, for example, forces every citizen to buy health insurance and mandates what that health insurance should look like.
The government owns 61 percent of General Motors and handed Chrysler billions in bailout funds. Far from a temporary incursion into the auto industry there is no deadline or plan to get out of the car business. “I don’t know if you get totally out of GM” by the end of this year, Vice President Biden told reporters recently.
The government currently backs nine out of every 10 new mortgages and earlier this year Washington was handing out money for buying homes. When the news broke that housing sales had plummeted in July because the credit had expired, the Obama administration once again started talking about either restoring the credit or formulating some other type of handout to get people to buy a house. If this isn’t controlling the housing market, then try buying or selling a house without government interference. And if you don’t want to buy or sell you can get government help if you “green” your house with new windows and energy efficient appliances.
The administration would also now like to get deeper into the business of running businesses by targeting tax cuts for those operations it deems worthwhile. Take the small-business bill President Obama has been yelling about. As Charles Krauthammer explains, the bill’s proposed tax cuts are about control. “[The administration] raise[s] the rates across the board and then the government will deign to return some of the money on a targeted tax cut, meaning if you do exactly as they say. Which means, for example, if they favor, say, high-tech investment and they’ll give you a cut in capital gains, and you have a business in which you don’t need that, but you need to spend on marketing, the government thinks it knows how to redirect your capital in a superior way,” Krauthammer said.
The Food and Drug Administration, for its part, has enacted new regulations about salt that has forced Heinz to change its ketchup recipe. And control over the Internet is being debated in the form of “net neutrality” legislation.
This kind of “we-know-better” public policy is what this year’s election is all about. If you prefer to have Washington decide for you, if you want to depend on a bureaucracy to make choices that affect your life, then you will probably favor Democratic candidates. If on the other hand you think that since you hit 21 years of age you have been perfectly able to figure out how to live and prosper, then voting for a Republican who offers at least the possibility that government will leave you in peace.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to sign off now, I have to make dinner.
(Abby Wisse Schachter blogs at nypost.com/blogs/capitol and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)