The president is right that the history of our nation included “twilight years spent in poverty”. He is right that Social Security and Medicare have greatly mitigated that problem. They are programs we “make to each other” but really they are individual programs. We pay into them as individuals all our working lives to earn what they provide – retirement and disability benefits. There isn’t much doubt in this public good is there? The current public debate concerns the fact that the programs are not sustainable in their current form not whether we should keep them. We need leadership to fix them and hopefully the President can provide that. He is right - anything else will weaken us.
But what about that part of the federal safety net that individuals don’t pay into to earn - Welfare and Medicaid? Of course we want to help those that can’t help themselves – the mentally ill and physically disabled. Our compassion has driven our welfare programs over the last 50 years from annual spending of $445 per person in poverty to $14,005 per person. That’s $56,020 per year for a family of four. So why then do we have homeless walking the street and children from the chronic poor going hungry? Because our system is too complex, poorly targeted and we now pay more to the middle class than we do to the chronic poor. In addition, the programs poorly address mental illness, alcohol and drug dependency. Ineffective compassion is not a “commitment we should make to each other”.