About what David Brooks thinks Republicans think
The Kansas City Star
David Brooks makes a valiant attempt to frame the present clash of political ideas in his column “What Republicans Think.” He may have done his job too well.
Brooks says that “many Republicans have now come to the conclusion that the welfare-state model is in its death throes…to Republican eyes, the first phase of that collapse is playing out right now in Greece, Spain and Italy-cosseted economies, unmanageable debt, rising unemployment, falling living standards.”
Brooks continues, “The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care.”
What makes true Democrats scream is the utter failure to differentiate between entitlements programs and welfare. Pensions, Social Security and Medicare aren’t welfare. Citizens agreed to fund these systems to provide some measure of security in old age. When you’re 80 years old and sick, you’re not too worried about innovation for the next century.
Benefits and contributions in government programs, especially Medicare, need to be revised, but the overall goal to provide social “security” does not. And Brooks’s implication that Republicans want to route taxes that fund these programs into “innovation” creates a spasm in Democrats, who view this as a cynical effort to give more tax breaks (welfare) to corporations.
From the Wall Street Journal November 8, 2011: “Corporate welfare is the offer of special favors—cash grants, loans, guarantees, bailouts and special tax breaks—to specific industries or firms. The government doesn’t track the overall cost of these programs, but in 2008 the Cato Institute made an attempt and came up with $92 billion for fiscal 2006, which is more than the U.S. government spends on homeland security.”
In the six years since 2006 this figure has undoubtedly increased. And the Cato figure does not include the pork in military spending. In the eyes of Democrats, cutting Social Security or Medicare because of deficits caused by other spending is a betrayal of trust of people who paid into the system.
Further, Democrats see proposals to create the so called private Social Security accounts for younger people as an attack on the safety net. And Democrats believe that pressure to cut benefits will multiply as revenues dwindle.
The federal government does contribute to programs that can legitimately be called welfare, for example, Medicaid, SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and food stamps. (However, the food stamp program, originally commodity foods, was designed to support agricultural prices. Nevertheless, it is now essentially a welfare program, but it still sells a lot of farm products.)
No doubt Republicans and Democrats view these programs differently. Republicans think they foster dependency. Democrats think they throw people a lifeline, especially in tough economic times. Fair enough debate.
Some argue that welfare should not be a federal program or that it should be provided privately. Again, fair enough debate.
The fact is though that Republicans and Democrats alike have contributed to the economic mess we’re in that creates pressure to cut social service programs, which I argue are more necessary than providing corporate welfare. Democrats like Medicaid for the poor. Republicans like fancy weapons systems, including some the military doesn’t want. And Republicans created a drug benefit within Medicare without funding it.
Democrats love bringing home the pork to defense firms in their districts, too. The federal government is gearing up to pass a new, nearly trillion dollar agricultural support program. Maybe this was necessary in the depression. But now?
We see the temptation for corporate welfare at the local governmental level, too. Today’s Kansas City Star front page story details a plan for the city to give an $8 million subsidy for a $70 million downtown apartment project when the occupancy rate downtown is already 98%. Exactly when does government decide that the free market can support itself.
Democrats will be loathe to compromise on welfare programs as long as Republicans insist on funding special tax breaks for businesses, innovative or not, as David Brooks describes them. (And, again, to be accurate, Democrats line up for funding their pet business projects, too. It’s difficult to find a consistent politician in discussions about these issues. Even Ron Paul, who thinks Social Security is unconstitutional, collects Social Security.)
But passionate Democrats true to their fundamental beliefs will fight to maintain Social Security and Medicare because they are not welfare but rather are a social contract created by the people. If someone as smart as David Brooks doesn’t understand this, I guess I don’t have much hope for the political parties finding common ground anytime soon.