With a presidential election coming up in November, it is again time for right-wing propagandists to trot out their “Welfare Queen” stories. These are tales of whopping budget deficits caused by government handouts to able-bodied people who won’t work. These payments are, of course, blamed for their disinclination to seek employment.

In his first presidential campaign Bill Clinton promised “to end welfare as we know it.” And in his first term he restructured welfare eligibility requirements. The states were mandated to require all able-bodied welfare recipients to work at meaningful jobs. Clinton received much criticism in certain liberal circles, but he proceeded anyway with his “workfare” program.

Today government payments to the non-working poor consume far less of the federal budget. And speaking of comparative expenses, welfare costs today are more than two percentage points less than the interest we pay on the national debt (7.4%). And Clinton was our only president in his era to not leave a budget deficit. In fact, he produced four balanced budgets. And in 2000 he left a surplus which George W. promptly squandered on tax cuts for the wealthy.

Much of the blame for our alarmingly high national debt can be laid at the doorstep of Republican icon Ronald Reagan. To his everlasting credit, in 1982 Reagan increased U.S. defense spending, thereby forcing the USSR to follow suit. This soon bankrupted their already-failing economy and ultimately led to the breakup of the Soviet Empire.

But Reagan made a crucial error. He failed to ask Congress for the tax money to fund his spending increases. Instead, he hinted they should cut welfare spending to make up the difference. How totally naïve. No politicians, Democrat or Republican, who plan to continue in office are going to cut their pork spending, their very mother’s milk.

As always, the increase was added to the already skyrocketing federal debt. At that time Reagan had created more federal debt than any president since World War II. And debt increases also raise the interest rate we pay China for financing our credit addiction. The net loser in all this? The American people. Tax-and-spend Democrats or borrow-and-spend Republicans? Take your pick.

Along with Workfare was Bill Clinton’s NPR (National Performance Review), a program to reinvent government and make it less expensive and more efficient. This effort, headed by Vice President Al Gore, streamlined bloated government employment in several key federal agencies, reportedly without sacrificing quality or efficiency. But some Democratic party-line liberals were a little peeved about NPR as they had also been about Workfare. Gore’s committee projected that, dependent on congressional action, the likely savings through NPR could reach $12.2 billion over time.

My point in sharing this? Through the years the Republicans have advertised themselves as the stingy party of financial and fiscal responsibility and the Democrats (“Spendocrats”) as spending and borrowing us into economic ruin. Historically, just the opposite has been true.

Although we outdo the next eight nations combined in military spending and spend almost three times as much as China, our closest rival, the GOP demands healthy increases in our military budget annually. And the Republicans have consistently created more government indebtedness. Doubt this? As they say, check it out.

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

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