Entitlement programs, also known as mandatory spending, account for two-thirds of the federal budget. This current fiscal year, mandatory spending exceeds total federal receipts.
In hard numbers, mandatory spending is estimated to cost this country $2.194 trillion this year alone, according to the Office of Management and Budget, whereas total government revenues for fiscal year 2011 are projected at $2.174 trillion.
Total federal revenue does not even cover mandatory entitlement spending, two-thirds of the budget. Still not included in that amount is the massive interest payment the U.S. pays on its debt.
If this was your bank account, you’d be declared bankrupt and be forced to make some major changes in your spending habits. But since it’s the government’s account, it is somehow able to continue to work and spend until Congress can reach an agreement on what the budget should look like for the rest of year. Currently, they have until April 8 to reach a decision.
Congress has mostly been focused on non-military discretionary spending cuts, meaning programs whose budgets get decided upon on an annual basis. Mandatory spending has been left out of the discussions for the most part. Why?
Is mandatory spending really still mandatory? Do the America people still feel entitled to all these entitlement programs even though America is facing the threat of insolvency? Americans for Limited Government (ALG) thought it best to get the answers from the American people themselves.
“Entitlements are good for some circumstances but sometimes they are not good,” says Clyde Hadian, a student at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). “I think many of these programs are old-fashioned, intended to help out people during the Great Depression. Now I think they are taken advantage of. In order for our country to progress, you can’t give out handouts like we do.”
His friends largely agreed with him. Joseph Gupta, also a student at NOVA, said that it’s okay to have entitlement programs but that they need to be maintained better in more manageable accounts.
These students also hope to have their own retirement accounts someday so they won’t need to depend upon Social Security when they are older. In their minds, everyone is feeling the pinch from the recession and if you can get by without the entitlements then you shouldn’t use them.
It is evident though that not everyone feels this way. Why at even the mention of cutting funding for Social Security, Medicare or the welfare system do people immediately take offense and fight back?
“Gas prices are more expensive, goods and services are more expensive,” says Ryan Downing, another student at NOVA and friend of Hadian and Gupta. “You have to look out for yourself. Because of choices the government has made, the state of the economy, people feel the pressure, fear and worry.”
All agreed that this mindset of entitled isn’t bettered by offering nearly two years of unemployment benefits coupled with government aid such as food stamps, welfare and low-income housing.
“Obviously the commitments we’ve made can’t be afforded,” says a professor who teaches at George Mason University in Northern Virginia. “People are living longer and the technology to keep us living longer is working and it’s expensive.”
The professor recommends increasing the retirement age to help sustain programs like Social Security and Medicare. But as for cutting spending for these and other entitlement programs, he is conflicted. “You need to look at all the variables, like a stock portfolio,” he says. “While there is a cost to put someone on unemployment insurance, there is a cost to have someone not insured.”
The college students all agreed that unemployment insurance should be rolled back as a starting point on the cuts that need to be made within entitlement programs. “Giving someone almost two years of unemployment insurance can make society quite lazy,” says Hadian. “It is not wise. The system can be taken advantage of. You can’t keep handing out freebies.”
Downing continues on the point of unemployment insurance, “You are conditioning people to do nothing because they are getting paid to do nothing.”
When you get down to the nitty-gritty of the budgetary issues, there are some Americans who do understand the need for cutbacks, even if someday down the line those cuts might affect them personally.
The professor and students all held in esteem President John F. Kennedy’s quote, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
Though this quote can be interpreted in many ways, Hadian understands it as this, “There are crises in the Middle East going on right now, if we had to go to war or extend the current military operations I would ask, ‘what can I do for America?’ And the answer might be joining the military.”
The professor had a similar response. “Those who volunteer for the military understand this quote, those who take massive unearned bonuses, like those in the financial industry after receiving federal bailout money, do not get it.”
For Congress to only focus on discretionary budget items is not good enough and won’t make a dent in the country’s effort to start paying off its debt.
Howard Rich, chairman of ALG, says that we can’t afford to ignore entitlements any longer. “Instead of being ignored they must be put on the table along with every other program funded by government, and cut.”