A couple weeks ago, President Barack Obama gave a now-infamous interview to CBS, in which he said that, if the debt ceiling is not raised by Aug. 2, government checks might not be mailed: “Well, this is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans’ checks; these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out… I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd, if we haven’t resolved this issue.” A few days after that statement, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the number was closer to 80 million.
The debate over the national deficit and debt limit has brought to the forefront a fundamental split in American political ideologies: What is the proper role of the Federal government in the lives of citizens? Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the fact remains that millions of people depend on the Federal government for some or all of their income.
And very few citizens are aware of exactly how far the reach of government stretches these days.
“The figures used by Obama and Geithner were, if anything, too low. They relied on Treasury Department figures from June that include Social Security (56 million checks that month), veterans benefits (4.5 million checks), and spending on non-defense contractors and vendors (1.8 million checks),” read an article in The Washington Post.
“But those numbers do not include reimbursements to Medicare providers and vendors (100 million claims in June), and electronic transfers to the 21 million households receiving food stamps,” the article read. “Nor do they include most spending by the Defense Department, which has a payroll of 6.4 million active and retired employees and, on average, pays nearly 1 million invoices and 660,000 travel expense claims per month.”
The article referred to a column written for conservative website American Thinker, which lamented the subtle spread of government: “I have bad news for conservatives who think Obama is leading the nation down the path to socialism: the barn door is open and the cows are long gone. Obama is not leading the nation to socialism; we are a socialist nation and have been for some time.”
However, Bill Frenzel, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, explained in an interview with The Washington Post the complicated duality of American thinking on this issue: “If you’re a compassionate liberal, you say, ‘Isn’t it wonderful we’re helping everybody,’ and if you’re a constitutional conservative, you say: ‘How did the government get into all these things? I don’t see these things in the Constitution; it’s bewildering, get rid of it.’”