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More of us are on welfare than we think

During the debate on Medicaid expansion, one of the program’s biggest foes said something worth consideration.

State Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton is a Tea Party favorite who is about as firmly anti-government as anybody. Especially, that is, when it comes to the federal government.

Colbeck firmly opposes any tax increases for any reason, including fixing our roads. He not only wanted to stop extending Medicaid, he wanted to get the state out of that federal program altogether.

He proposed a state-financed version that would cost the state more and insure fewer people. Even most of his fellow Republicans voted against that.

But one of Colbeck’s objections is worth thinking about. Of Medicaid expansion, he said, “If this goes into effect, 30 percent of our population is going to be on Medicaid, and then 70 percent is going to be paying for 30 percent.“ 

Indeed, that is a version of the nightmare that has haunted conservatives for decades: That our nation is becoming a place where a shrinking group of hard-working, self-sufficient Americans are cruelly taxed to support a huge parasite class. 

Years ago, the black welfare mother was often used as the symbol of this. Now, it is the working poor who want health care.    

Well, it is perfectly true that the system can’t support unlimited benefits for everybody. But I would be willing to bet Senator Colbeck himself gets a kind of welfare payment.   

I know I do, and I have a family income larger than the average. The welfare benefit I receive -- and which I’d bet Senator Colbeck does too --is called the mortgage deduction, and it lowers my taxes in order to help me live in a nice home. Now, most of us aren’t used to thinking of this as welfare, but it is.

Within less than a decade, I hope to be another kind of welfare recipient. I hope to be collecting Social Security. Yes, I know money has been deducted from my paychecks for it ever since I started working, but if I survive for less than a decade after I start getting benefits, I will have gotten out more that I put in, even allowing for interest.     

What Senator Colbeck and many others don’t realize is that no man is an island. We are in a mutually dependent society, called civilization, and government is the oil that keeps it running and the lifeblood that carries oxygen to the various parts of the civic body. 

Yes, there is waste and there are people who abuse the system, and we need ways of catching them.

But every time Colbeck goes to Lansing, he does so on taxpayer-subsidized roads after brushing his teeth with taxpayer-sanitized water. My guess is that he’d rather not hack his way through the underbrush on a mule.

Yes, we should worry about overburdening taxpayers, and about the economics of a future when we’ll have fewer working adults and more retirees. But to pretend we can go back and live in some mythical universe where every man is self-sufficient is a fantasy. A fantasy that’s not very appealing, when you think about what that would really mean.

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