Despite whatever promises you were made, the purpose of government is not to guarantee us a good life. That’s our responsibility. The debate over what the Founding Fathers meant by “general Welfare” has been rendered meaningless now that our government’s overreaching efforts to provide for all endangers the promises it needs to keep. Whatever the general welfare was supposed to mean, that idea has become so corrupted that, ironically, the general welfare now threatens our welfare.
It’s easy to blame the fiscal crisis that is cycling back into the headlines on partisanship and the quest for votes, but if votes were all that mattered our economy might stand a chance of surviving out of brazen self-interest. In this case cynicism might cause us to be unfair because many politicians do have a vision. The problem is that lawmakers can be attracted to the wrong vision and follow each other like lemmings off a cliff.
When government promotes the general welfare it threatens our future.
The Congressional Budget Office resurrected the tax vs. spend argument last week as Washington approaches another battle over a government shutdown:
The fundamental federal budgetary challenge has hardly been addressed: The largest federal programs are becoming much more expensive because of the retirement of the baby boomers and the rising costs of health care, so we need to cut back on those programs, increase tax revenue to pay for them, or take some combination of those actions.¹
Too many members of Congress refuse to admit that their vision for funding the general welfare is unsustainable, so we end up with the same budgetary standoffs time and again (see: Tax the Wealthy to Finance Baby Boomer Welfare?). Most of the growth in federal spending comes from our big entitlements.² Are we willing to be responsible for ourselves, or do we prefer to subsist on whatever the government can afford to give us in exchange for higher taxes?
Government guarantees of security will ring hollow.
With baby boomers about to retire in droves and Congress unable to shake its fear of dealing realistically with entitlement spending, Democratic promises of secure retirements from Social Security will, sooner or later, fall flat. In the meantime, telling Americans they have nothing to worry about in their golden years is not only irresponsible and unethical, it helps persuade us not to save (see: No Government Conspiracy, No Jobs, No Retirement Security).
How do we balance government commitments to financial and health care security in retirement that already ring hollow with the president’s guarantee of affordable health care? Accusing Republicans of “sticking it to you”³ in their efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, the president issued what sounds like a guarantee:
Think about that. They’re actually having a debate between hurting Americans who will no longer be denied affordable care just because they’ve been sick – and harming the economy and millions of Americans in the process.4
Creating enemies to support the vision of a better life for middle class America has been a hallmark of the White House’s domestic policy strategy. Those enemies appear in different guises and include the wealthy, corporations, Republican lawmakers, and even business owners. The real damage is not done by Obama’s straw men, but by legislators who believe in his vision that the general welfare requires the economy and the American people to depend on the government. Barack Obama will be out of office in three years while the Americans who swallowed promises of government funded security are still retiring. What will they do when they find out that everything they were told was, after all, a lie?