Martinez

Moochers, almost all of us

December 25, 2012 

Let’s face it. We’re all on the public dole. Some of us get checks; the rest of us get tax breaks.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney got into political hot water when he said 47 percent of Americans are dependent on government. Turns out, he was on the low side. Pew Research reported last week that more than 55 percent of Americans have received, or are receiving, benefits from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or unemployment coffers.

But Pew’s data are low as well.

The real number – the one that will push us into fiscal oblivion regardless of what Congress does – is 96. Nearly all of us – 96 percent – get a federal subsidy in one form or another. That’s the calculation of Cornell government professor Suzanne Mettler and John Sides, associate professor of political science at George Washington University. In the researchers’ estimation, the only people not on the take are children too young to fill out an application.

Let’s examine one of the moochers identified by Mettler and Sides.

That would be me.

Currently, no federal check(s) is deposited into my checking account, and I haven’t collected a dime from the six programs identified by Pew. But I have benefited greatly from two federal subsides – one good, the other bad.

The good subsidy is the benefit I received under the G.I. Bill. U.S. taxpayers forked over about $22,000 for my college education, which led to me to secure higher-paying jobs. No doubt I’ve repaid taxpayers several times through higher income and consumption taxes.

But the real social value of the G.I. Bill was that it compelled me to earn my benefit. Before the first check was cut, I gave the U.S. Navy four of the longest years of my life. To paraphrase President Obama, I had skin, a lot of skin, invested in my government benefits. Once in college, I didn’t waste a moment in class given the high personal cost I paid for it through military service.

The mortgage interest deduction is the bad federal subsidy I’ve received for no other reason than I qualified. I haven’t had the guts to figure out what I’ve cost the U.S. taxpayer by simply being in debt. Others have. The mortgage interest deduction is calculated to cost the Treasury a bit north of $100 billion per year. What do Americans get for that investment?

In my case, they got nothing. I didn’t need a tax incentive to understand that owning a home provided a better lifestyle and stronger financial position for my family.

Here’s the real problem with the mortgage interest deduction. It’s immoral. Renters essentially pay for the mortgage interest deduction because they don’t receive it. Since most people rent because they don’t have the money to buy, this is yet another federal program through which the poor subsidize the middle and upper class.

Higher education is another area where Robin Hood switches sides.

There’s a strong correlation between family wealth and college attendance. Pell grants were established in 1974 to even the post-secondary field for low-income families. Over the years, though, the middle class has weaseled its way into the program.

In an examination of Pell grants, which cost approximately $35 billion per year, Jenna Ashley Robinson and Duke Cheston of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy found that 25 percent of the grants went to households that made 133 percent of the federal poverty level or more.

Of the recipients who came from families earning more than $60,000 annually, 20 percent enrolled in expensive private universities instead of getting more bang for the buck at a public university.

And so it goes.

The truth is, the fiscal cliff that House Republicans and President Obama are arguing over is really nothing more than a speed bump.

The real financial crisis facing the United States is the growing number of Americans who collect benefits from Uncle Sam, not because they need them, but because they can.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( rickjmartinez2@gmail.com) is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and SGRToday.com

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