Why Mitt Romney Is Right about Entitlement
by Victor Tolomeo | Georgetown University
A video of a Romney fundraiser has recently surfaced, originally reported by Mother Jones, that contains comments made by the Republican nominee concerning government dependence and support for President Obama. In the video Romney said,
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims… my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
The Governor has already acknowledged that the quote was “not elegantly stated.” He’s right. As President, his job would be to worry about all Americans, especially those who, for whatever reason, legitimately need government assistance. Unsurprisingly, the Obama campaign has jumped on the quote, hoping that the controversy will fuel yet another frustratingly empty and superficial news cycle.
The question I asked when I first saw the video was: How’d he get 47%? The percentage of the population that is wholly dependent on government aid to survive could not be that high. If it were, well, chances are you’d have bigger fish to fry than reading another article on NextGen Journal.
So let’s look at some statistics (courtesy of the Census Bureau via the Wall Street Journal):
- 26.4% of U.S. households had someone enrolled in Medicaid
- 16.2% of households had at least one member receiving Social Security
- 15.8% lived in a household receiving food stamps
- 14.9% had a member with Medicare benefits
- 4.5% of households received assistance with their rent
- 1.7% had a member receiving unemployment benefits
That doesn’t include farm subsidies, student loans, or any of the myriad of other things classified as a transfer payment. In addition, about half the country pays no income tax.
While 47% of the population is definitely not wholly dependent on the government, it is not a stretch to estimate that probably 40-50% of the population is partially dependent, meaning they regularly receive a transfer payment, whatever that might be. So in that regard, Mitt is right: close to half our population is getting government benefits, a sign of the economic times and changing demographics.
So is that a problem? As a party that has morphed from one that helped reform welfare during the Clinton years to one who’s slogan seemingly is now “Free Lunches (and Contraceptives) For All!” the Democrats would answer no. Republicans obviously have a different view.
The truth of the matter is that it is a problem, but not because transfer payment recipients are undeserving or lazy (as some on the far right have irresponsibly argued). It’s a problem because, as the proportion of the population that receives benefits grows, our capacity as a society to make difficult choices diminishes. While some of the “47%” will still be casting votes for Romney in November, the fact is that as said portion of the country grows, the support for any effort to modify the programs that disburse those transfer payments will decrease. Why? It’s human nature. People in general are going to be much less likely to vote to cut their own benefits or make changes to programs they rely on. And while Democrats may naively see this as “the emerging Democratic majority” they claim is emerging every election cycle, it’s really an emerging disaster, a slow-motion, multi-decade train wreck on the horizon.
If a majority of voters choose to keep the status quo at the ballot box and they do this for the foreseeable future, there is only one result: there won’t be any more government benefits, because the programs that finance them will have gone bankrupt, which won’t be fun for anybody. This isn’t some paranoid, right-wing dream; this is real, and it’s coming.
We need entitlement reform, and it needs to be done now. Right now. Not next year, not in 2014, Now. Or else not only will the choices be more difficult and painful to make, but it will be many times harder to sell it to the electorate. That’s what Mitt means when he talks about personal responsibility. It’s the courage to stand up, look beyond the present, and do what is needed for the country as a whole as well as for future generations. He thinks he can’t convince them, but I believe he can. If Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan go out and tell the truth to the American people, while presenting a new path to prosperity, they can win, and we can avert that train wreck.
I’m standing with Mitt Romney to make America the kind of place we want it to be once more. Are you?Victor Tolomeo is a student at Georgetown University. He lives in Sacramento, California.