Those wisely-used, under-acknowledged government social programs

THOSE WISELY-USED, UNDER-ACKNOWLEDGED GOVERNMENT SOCIAL PROGRAMS…. The lack of self-awareness is almost amusing.

In a smart column today, Bruce Bartlett looks at why it will be so hard for politicians to cut government spending: because so many Americans who say they support cutting government programs don’t realize just how much they benefit from them.

Remember, for example, when a town hall attendee famously told his congressman to “keep your government hands off my Medicare”? Apparently that bewilderingly blinkered sentiment is hardly unique.

Bartlett relied on research from Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler, who reported on beneficiaries of government social programs who sincerely believe they “have not used a government social program.” For example, 53% of those who’ve received student loans don’t realize that counts. The same goes for 44% of Social Security recipients, and 40 percent of Medicare recipients.

It’s not that these folks are lying; it’s just that they don’t understand. When they think of “government social program,” they very likely think of “welfare” — the kind of aid that they’ve never sought and don’t think they’ll ever need.

I often think of this piece from Matt Taibbi, who attended a Tea Party rally over the summer.

After Palin wraps up, I race to the parking lot in search of departing Medicare-motor-scooter conservatives. I come upon an elderly couple, Janice and David Wheelock, who are fairly itching to share their views.

“I’m anti-spending and anti-government,” crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. “The welfare state is out of control.”

“OK,” I say. “And what do you do for a living?”

“Me?” he says proudly. “Oh, I’m a property appraiser. Have been my whole life.”

I frown. “Are either of you on Medicare?”

Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

“Let me get this straight,” I say to David. “You’ve been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?”

“Well,” he says, “there’s a lot of people on welfare who don’t deserve it. Too many people are living off the government.”

“But,” I protest, “you live off the government. And have been your whole life!”

“Yeah,” he says, “but I don’t make very much.”

The point is that congressional Republicans are desperate to make devastating, job-killing cuts to the budget, and think they’re on safe political ground because voters say they support spending cuts. GOP officials might be surprised to learn just how many Americans rely on government spending, and want to keep the benefits that apply to them.