George B. Reed Jr.

George B. Reed Jr.

Any time a congressional bill is introduced for anything other than tax cuts or military spending, conservatives immediately trot out the "welfare mom" scenario. But today welfare spending consumes only about nine percent of our total budget, slightly more than what we pay annually in interest on the Federal debt.

I am 85 years old and have gone to the grocery regularly for as long as I can remember. But I have never once seen the proverbial welfare mom with her two baskets of mostly junk food for which she pays with food stamps, then tips the carryout person $5.00 to put it all in her new Cadillac. Others claim to have witnessed this scenario. Honestly, I never have.

When Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, the "Workfare Law," he angered many liberals But this controversial legislation reduced welfare caseloads by 54% and was in accord with Clinton’s campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." But for the world’s wealthiest country, our poverty figures are embarrassingly high. I know, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. But when we are deficient in so many different poverty measurements it indicates something is wrong. But how did things get this way in the first place?

Due partially to inequitable tax restructuring in the early 2000s and before, Americans now have the widest income disparity since the Great Depression. And our health care costs are almost twice as high as the next highest nation, France. Although conservatives tell us our health care is of much higher quality than that of the "socialized medicine" countries, that’s mostly a myth.

Our military overspending that feeds what President Eisenhower warned of, the "military-industrial complex," is higher than the next eight nations combined. Is that overkill, or what?

There is also the high cost of our relatively low quality education. Other than Switzerland and Sweden, the cost of public education in other developed-world countries is less than ours while their test scores are much higher. For example, U.S. students rank 29th on the PISA International Science Literacy Scale and similarly low in other areas. University education in most other developed countries is practically free to those who qualify. Foreign students’ success isn’t dependent on the size of their parents bank accounts and they don’t have to mortgage their futures by taking on insurmountable debt to pay for college; no $50,000 student loan debts at graduation.

Why haven’t we addressed these embarrassing disparities? Because remedy can only come through legislative action initiated through pressure from an aroused electorate. We rank an embarrassing 58th in the free world in voter turnout. While 90% of Americans today say they have little faith in their Congress, they continue to return 95% of these unresponsive, incompetent, bought-and-paid-for bozos back to Washington every two years. Both parties care mostly about self-perpetuation. Only 36.2% of registered voters turned out in our 2014 congressional elections and we hit a 20-year low in 2016. One might say our largest constituency today is the "American Coalition of Nonvoters." Only a grassroots initiative can really change anything. But first, somebody has to care.

George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bellsouth.net.