I’m well past the point of thoroughly fed up with the running attempt by Republicans to paint government programs as “free” or “entitlements”. They are no such thing. Government programs are simply an allocation of public money towards the common good; what, in the Constitution, is reffered to as “promot[ing] the general Welfare.” Most recently, it was Romney claiming black people want “free stuff”–in a repugnant display of racial politics that harkens back to the golden days of the Willie Horton ads. We saw it in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker and the Republicans tried to make his dispute over the state workers’ pension plan about their fair share–which was, contrary to his claims, 100%–when in fact it was about cutting their pay unilaterally. The Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank–who came up with the whole concept of the Individual Mandate–has a whole page on government benefit plans and programs under the heading “entitlements“–but are they? No, they aren’t; only an idiot or a liar would argue otherwise.
Government programs are financed by taxes and fees collected from citizens and businesses. This includes all government programs, including–but not limited to–the Navy, the Marines, the Army, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, The Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Veteran’s Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and yes, Social Security and Medicare. What do all of these government programs have in common? They are all Constitutionally sound, taxpayer funded programs that exist to “provide for the common defence” and “promote the general Welfare”, just like the government is supposed to be doing. Also, they are not “entitlements”, or some other attempt to get something for nothing. On the contrary, expecting the government to pay Social Security benefits or Medicaid is just expecting to get back the services that you paid for. You know that section on your paycheck where it lists the deductions labelled FICA? That’s you, paying the bill. You’ve been paying it all your life.
Republicans try to trick people into thinking Social Security is bankrupt, or going bankrupt–it isn’t–while calling it an “entitlement”, as if it’s something you are demanding like some spoiled brat, and not actually a taxpayer expecting the government to fulfill the contract it wrote with you 80 years ago and has been billing you for ever since. The only reason Social Security faces budget shortfalls in a couple of decades or so is that the government, under Reagan, started dumping Social Security income into the general revenue fund, to bring down the ratio of government income to government spending. Rather than saving or investing it in ways that would enable it to support the impending surge of Baby Boomers that would be coming in the next 3 or 4 decades (i.e. what a fiscally responsible conservative would do), Reagan kicked that can down the road and spent it on other things, like laser-firing satellites to shoot down missiles but that didn’t actually work. Basically, Reagan and Greenspan raised the FICA withholding amounts to prepare for the Baby Boomers, but then went out and blew the money on
hookers and blow space lasers that shoot missiles–leaving a bunch of IOU’s in the Social Security fund instead. Now that the actual bills on that blackout weekend those two presidential terms of binge spending is coming due, Republicans say they can’t afford to cover it and tough shit; people will have to take cuts in benefits because hookers and blow space lasers. This is what passes for “fiscal responsibility” to a Republican: Blow the money you’re supposed to spend on serious projects on what might as well be unicorns and pixie dust, then play the victim when anybody asks where the money is. This is why when someone says “fiscal conservative” I hear “Ponzi scheme”.
Imagine that you go to a fancy restaurant. You order an item on the menu–say, beef tenderloin in a cabernet glaze, with roasted truffles and a butternut polenta with gorgonzola. The price is 75 dollars. When your meal arrives, it’s a hamburger patty with ketchup with fried mushrooms and cheese grits. When you protest, the manager tells you he spent most of your and the other customers’ money on spinner rims and a bowling ball paint job for his car, but it was totally worth it because the Russian place across the street went bankrupt trying to keep up with a hydraulic suspension system. You’re just going to have to take a cheaper meal because he can’t afford it. He then goes on to berate you for your greed in expecting more food than he can afford, and he wishes you’d quit being such a whiny little bitch about it. Who is in the wrong here? If you’re a Republican it’s you, and your spoiled-ass sense of entitlement. If this metaphor seems off, it is: actually, you paid for the hamburger patty and now the Republicans are tossing you an unopened can of cat food. And you better just like it and not go asking for anything ridiculous like a can opener, you big baby.
Government spending is a matter of priorities, and right now our priorities are completely out of whack. When 53 cents of every dollar go to military expenditures but we’re cutting back on firemen and teachers, we need to step back and think about what the hell we’re doing. We call it “defense spending”, but it sure seems like an awful lot of our military is in other countries, countries that aren’t attacking and haven’t attacked us–which, to the untrained eye, could look a whole lot more like “offense spending”. Either way, the military is a government spending program, and we need to remember that–particularly when, as the Republicans are fond of doing, we’re saying the government doesn’t do anything right. After all, that particular program actually kills people, so it would be somewhat reassuring, in a moral sense, to be confident that we got things right there.
Except we don’t even know how they spend their money. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was quoted as describing our military as “semi-feudal system”, adding that it was “nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to questions such as ‘how much did you spend’ and ‘how many people do you have.’ ” So yeah, we can rest easy that our “defense” money is well spent. Or we can assume it’s being wasted. We don’t have enough evidence to firmly support either assertion, so it’s your pick: take the answer you prefer, nobody can refute it either way.
I’m not picking on the military (I’ll do that in another post), I’m just taking easy shots at the easy target. We hear all this talk from Republicans about “fiscal responsibility”, and yet all of them–Ron Paul excepted–are scared shitless of running up against the biggest, most unaccountable and unaccounted for sucking wound of American taxpayer dollars there is: the Defense Department budget. The problem isn’t paying $412 million dollars each for a fighter jet that was supposed to cost $63 million and occasionally chokes its pilot to death, according to Republicans. It’s welfare recipients, trying to scrape by on $112 a week because free trade agreements shipped their jobs to Fukyuasia. Those are the real culprits. The billionaires who shipped their jobs overseas and devastated the American middle class are not only unpunished, they get the honorific title “job creators” for their efforts.
So when I hear Republicans arguing about “entitlements” and using bullshit terms like “free stuff”, I get kind of annoyed. Because they are either lying to me, or they’re idiots, and either way it is an insult that they get to have input on what direction the country should be going and how my tax dollars should be spent. If I got to choose, I’d much rather save an inner city kid than blow up an Afghan village–and yet somehow, I’m the one who gets painted as having the warped sense of priorities.
Welcome to Republican America: land of the fleeced, home of the prey.