America in a 'Death Spiral' of Gov't Dependency?

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More than two-thirds of federal spending now goes to provide benefits for Americans.

In fact, more people than ever are depending on the government just to make ends meet.
Some suggest that level of dependency could be detrimental to the nation's health.

Dangerous Dependency

Maryland resident John Sweetland is receiving three checks from government -- one for his military service, one for his time as a state employee, and one from Social Security.
His situation is like 21 percent of his fellow Americans.

"Let's just start with the dependent population.  We have found that one out of five Americans are significantly dependent on the federal government for the basics of life," Bill Beach, director of the Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis, told CBN News.

Beach puts out the annual Index of Dependence on Government.  He notes that 21 percent is way up from the less than 8 percent of Americans who were substantially dependent on government 50 years ago.

According to Beach, now "a hundred-and-fifteen million people, one out of three, are getting some kind of a check from the government."

Sending out all those checks and aid now takes up a whopping 70 percent of the federal government's budget. With the U.S. borrowing 43 cents of every dollar it spends, it's plunging the country deeper and deeper into staggering levels of debt.
But Sweetland isn't feeling guilty about the checks he's receiving.

"For 40 plus years I put money into Social Security.  Now I just feel that I'm pulling my money back out," he told CBN News. 

Who's Footing the Bill?

But who's really paying for all this? Beach has another stunning statistic.

"Forty-nine-and-a-half percent of all the people in the United States are not paying an income tax," Beach said. 

With half the country not contributing to the general revenue and with a third getting money from Uncle Sam, Beach worries it could permanently -- and dangerously -- warp the nation's politics.

"They may be voting for people who will increase their benefits since they're not paying any of the costs involved," he explained. "We could then see this sort of death spiral of increasing dependency and increasing outlays." 

But Sweetland is like many Americans who don't like the modern entitlement state and regularly vote for the politicians promising to cut many people off from it.

"What angers me more than anything is those who sit around with the great 'give me give me give me' mentality," he said. "They think that Uncle Sam has to give them all this stuff - no, Uncle Sam is not obligated to give them anything." 

Even those who worked and contributed to the fund all their lives are likely to take far more out than they put in.  
For instance, a woman making an average income will pay about $87,000s in taxes, but government will spend $275,000 on her medical care alone.

A Tough Sell

Beach says it's tough for any politician to chop away when so many of their constituents are now so dependent.

"It just makes it really, really hard for a politician to stand up at a town hall and say 'We need to reduce everybody's benefits here because we can't afford it,'" Beach said. "One out of three people in that audience will be getting something from the federal government." 

But many Americans -- even those now receiving government checks -- worry if serious cutting doesn't start immediately, programs like Social Security and Medicare may well collapse.

"I'm very, very worried," Sweetland told CBN News. "My son right now works a 40-hour job and he's forced to pay money into something that he will probably never see."
Beach warns Americans, "These programs that they think are helping them, securing them from want, are all bankrupt programs." 

With a massive wave of 77 million baby boomers set to retire in the years ahead, more and more Americans will depend on these programs. 

How will the country afford all this?  A lot is at stake for both those receiving from and giving to the government.  

*Original broadcast March 15, 2012.

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Paul  Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

As senior correspondent in CBN's Washington, D.C., bureau, Paul Strand has covered a variety of political and social issues, with an emphasis on defense, justice, and Congress.  Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulStrandCBN and "like" him at