Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keep the government out of government!

(photo via Paul Krugman)

We all get a good laugh at Tea Party signs like this, don't we? We bust a gut laughing at those "keep your government hands off my Medicare" complaints from seniors who've spent too much time watching Fox "News" and too little time thinking.

But maybe it's not so funny after all. Take a look at this chart from The Fiscal Times. A whopping 44% of Social Security recipients and 40% of Medicare recipients deny that they've actually used a government social program.
Percentage of Program Beneficiaries Who Report They “Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
Program
“No, Have Not Used a Government Social Program”
529 or Coverdell
64.3
Home Mortgage Interest Deduction
60.0
Hope or Lifetime Learning Tax Credit
59.6
Student Loans
53.3
Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
51.7
Earned Income Tax Credit
47.1
Social Security—Retirement & Survivors
44.1
Pell Grants
43.1
Unemployment Insurance
43.0
Veterans Benefits (other than G.I. Bill)
41.7
G.I. Bill
40.3
Medicare
39.8
Head Start
37.2
Social Security Disability
28.7
Supplemental Security Income
28.2
Medicaid
27.8
Welfare/Public Assistance
27.4
Government Subsidized Housing
27.4
Food Stamps
25.4
Source: Suzanne Mettler, “Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenge of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era,” Perspectives on Politics (September 2010): 809.

Incredible, isn't it? Some of these are more surprising than others, of course, but still. One quarter of food stamp recipients don't know they're getting government assistance?  40% of those benefiting from the G.I. Bill and 42% getting other veterans' benefits?  43% receiving unemployment insurance?

It's no wonder the GOP can get such eager support for cutting "wasteful" government spending,... as long as they're careful not to be too specific. Michele Bachmann, for example, proposed cutting $4.5 billion from veterans benefits until veterans complained. Oops! Too specific!

And here in Nebraska - a very red state - everyone is eager to cut government spending, just not anything that directly benefits them - like Social Security, Medicare, farm support payments, ethanol tax incentives, etc.

And these are Republicans, so cuts to defense spending are also completely off the table. No, we want to balance the budget by cutting foreign aid! Heh, heh. Here's TPM:
In a World Public Opinion poll conducted last November, respondents guessed, on average, that foreign aid spending represented 27% of the federal budget. To trim spending, the same respondents suggested that, on average, foreign should make up a slimmer 13% of the total budget, surely delivering massive savings.

The problem? Foreign aid is actually a minuscule 1% of the total budget. Even eliminating it altogether would do little to balance the budget or reduce the deficit.

Later in the article, TPM notes that only 25% of us think we need to spend at least three times as much as any other nation on defense. But in reality, we spend seven times as much as the next highest spender, China. Yet defense spending is still a sacred cow here.

It's this kind of ignorance that lets Republicans make political gains by promising to balance the budget while decreasing taxes and exempting those parts of federal spending - those popular parts - where we actually spend the money, including defense, Social Security, and Medicare. (Of course, Republican leaders don't actually intend to balance the budget, but that's another story.)

Now all these right-wing nuts are eager to cut social spending, of course. But they don't recognize Social Security and Medicare as government social programs. They don't recognize veterans' benefits as social programs. They don't recognize student loans and unemployment insurance and targeted tax breaks as being part of our government's social safety net.

These are all good things, and isn't "government spending" supposed to be wasteful and, you know, just going to illegal Mexican immigrants and black welfare moms who pick up their government checks in brand-new Cadillacs? Oh, and all that foreign aid that goes to places like Haiti? (Why can't they just get a job, like white people?)

Yeah, we want to cut all that spending that goes to someone else, someone who clearly doesn't deserve it (unlike us). That's where all this "government spending" is going, right?

And so I get these emails from elderly Medicare patients who claim that our health care crisis is caused by young people who don't take care of themselves and then go to a hospital emergency room when they get sick. (And yet, they're adamantly opposed to requiring them to get health insurance, since that's "Obamacare." Heh, heh. Figure that out.)

And so we get Tea Partiers who demand that the government stay out of Medicare. Yeah, these people are laughably ignorant, but it turns out there's a lot of them. Hmm,... it's not so funny now, is it?

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