Robert Bennett: It's time to fix our own country's entitlement state

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  • Ex-Pat of Zion Lititz, PA
    May 23, 2012 12:07 p.m.

    "Still, entitlement spending is now roughly two-thirds of our federal budget, dwarfing everything else" What?!? I had to do a double-take and verify. I think your mind is going, Senator. DEFENSE accounts for 50% of the 2012 federal budget, at some $750 billion. Social programs are, the next biggest at $80 billion. You're confusing dwarfs and giants here.

    Your other points on Europe (Greece in articular) have some merit. I must ask, though, your disdain for the practicality of a "soft landing" begs the question: What are the costs of this social-economic "correction" and, more importantly, who is going to bear them? Scarcity mentality breeds fear and selfishness. When there isn't enough, it sure is convenient to say: This fellow hath brought upon himself his own misery; therefore I will stay my hand (paraphrasing).

    Scarcity is a myth brought on by lack of faith. (See D&C 104:17) Despite this assurance, many of us still think zero-sum. Think about the consequences of that approach (D&C 104:18)

    Everyone who is able and wants to work should be "entitled" to do so. How did Brigham Young (territory "government") handle this?

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    May 23, 2012 11:29 a.m.


    I am a liberal. I will opt out of social security. I can't in good conscience take money from the mouths of hungry children to fund the comfortable retirement depicted in Modern Maturity (the AARP's monthly magazine: lobster recipes, bicycling in Holland). Means test and raise the retirement age. I will see how to opt out of Medicare. In my working years I save and invest as much as I can and I don't buy frills.

    I presume that "blue" in your name means your political views and not being a fan of BYU. So will you?

  • SG in SLC Salt Lake City, UT
    May 23, 2012 9:01 a.m.


    I'm a left-leaning moderate Democrat, and no liberal (or as JCS would call us, "left-wing extremist") I know seriously thinks that adopting France's 75% tax-on-the-rich in the U.S. would be a good idea.

    Undeniably, our country has some very serious fiscal and economic problems right now, but honestly, the only way that we're going to come up with a solution that puts us on a trajectory leading to fiscal sustainability is to put EVERYTHING on the table, including liberals' sacred cows (social safety net & entitlement spending, progressive tax structure, income redistribution, etc.) and conservatives' sacred cows (military spending, corporate welfare, tax breaks for "job creators"/trickle-down economics, etc.). The "strict constructionists" and the "closet socialists" will need to refrain from obstructionism, and the lawmakers will need to temporarily set politics aside in favor of open-mindedness, collaboration, and compromise to hammer out a workable solution.

    I know that the odds are pretty long against it, but I believe that it is doable. Avoiding the alternative is worth the paradigm shift necessary to make it happen.

  • Tekakaromatagi Dammam, Saudi Arabia
    May 23, 2012 8:52 a.m.

    Anyone who loans money to the governments of France or Greece is dumb because they have no plan on how they will pay back the loans. Unfortunately, neither do we.

  • Liberal Ted Salt Lake City, UT
    May 23, 2012 7:56 a.m.

    There is an easy fix. Cut entitlements in half. Raise taxes on those 50% who currently do not pay taxes (You NEED to have skin in the game if you're going to vote on entitlements and programs) that is fair. Cut the retirement program and health care program for all senators and congressmen- Not sure why they get lifetime benefits for being a public servant. Cut the presidents spending account. He doesn't need to vacation around the world all of the time (make it US business only no campaigning. Cut the first ladys budget.

    Reduce the size of the military. Allow hospitals to turn away illegals.

    Open up drilling in the US and keep the money here.

    Lower taxes on business to the mid level range compared to the world, that will bring companies and jobs to the US and keep their money here.

    Anyone going onto welfare or entitlement are required to work on farms during harvest and planting seasons, and required to work in their communities scrubbing graffiti, picking up garbage etc. Also drug tested.

    Give everyone an opt out option, and they can choose to have the govt mng their money or themselves

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    May 22, 2012 4:13 p.m.

    Tax those who make over 1 million per year at 75% (like France is going to do)!!! This brilliant policy will have the wonderful outcome of paying for all entitlements from the pockets of those nasty rich people and creating millions of new jobs in the process since the rich will now want to invest more of their money - the 25% that is left. Yes sir - this is called the "fairness doctrine" and it is certain to be a winner!! Don't you just love socialism??

    "The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money" Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    May 22, 2012 3:19 p.m.

    Lonestar - I know that no one is probably following this thread anymore, but I feel compelled to have to reply to this whole "government's teat to suck from" non-sense when it comes to the idea that 50% plus are just looking for a handout.

    Lets use my household as an example. We have 4 people who live in my house filing 3 federal tax returns each year.

    1) My wife and I file a return - we together pay a deep 5 figure income tax each year.

    2) My mother lives with us, she has MS and is retired. Her income is about 11 thousand dollars - pays no income tax. She worked for over 40 years raising a family after a bitter divorce. Not a Teat sucker.

    3) My college age son. He earned just over 10 thousand last year working his way through college. Full time college student, part time worker - now missionary. I don't really think he was sucking any government teat either.

    That is 2 out of 3 don't pay income taxes yet filed returns- none of which are teat suckers. Enough of the self indulgent dispersions of others.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    May 22, 2012 2:25 p.m.

    Lone Star... I pretty much reject the notion that the vast majority are looking for a "government's teat to suck from". I find such attitudes a bit over the top. I think most Americans would prefer to have incomes where they don't have to rely on others for thier sustinance. Rather, I do find there is a growing number of Americans who see themselves as superiour to others, that they somehow have pure intent, while others are less so. I haven't really figured out why these people feel so superiour to others, because everyday, I see plenty of cars on the highway, making their way to their jobs, and know of few others who are sitting at home waiting for the government check to show up. I don't see that person in the car next to me as one who is seeking "government's teat to suck from". Those communting to work far outnumber those waiting to "suck".

  • patriot Cedar Hills, UT
    May 22, 2012 2:08 p.m.

    Getting rid of Obama is the obvious first step! Can't have a Marxist socialist in the White House who wants America to be like Europe. Until OBama is gone - nothing of substance can change for the better in the US economy. The man is poison to freedom and prosperity.

  • Wonder Provo, UT
    May 22, 2012 10:58 a.m.

    Very interesting. I'm looking forward to the next article that will tell us who is funding Mitt Romney's Super Pacs.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    May 22, 2012 8:45 a.m.

    Factors Bennett fails to bring up:

    Corruption, together with the associated issue of poor standards of tax collection, is widely regarded as both a key cause of the current troubles in the economy and a key hurdle in terms of overcoming the country's debt problem.

    In early 2010, it was revealed that successive Greek governments had been found to have consistently and deliberately misreported the country's official economic statistics to keep within the monetary union guidelines. This had enabled Greek governments to spend beyond their means, while hiding the actual deficit from the EU overseers.

    The Greek labor force, which totals approximately 5 million, works the second highest number of hours per year on average among
    OECD countries, after South Korea.

    According tostutters from the OECD, Greece ranks #10 in welfare spending as a percentage of GDP, while the U.S. is #26.

  • Hellooo Salt Lake City, UT
    May 21, 2012 9:21 p.m.

    Roland you are correct the CBO has not suggested that the Affordable Health Care Act will add the amount of deficits to the national budget as one comment suggests. However, the biggest reason for this is the federal government has pasted about 25% of the cost of providing expanded coverage to the states through eligibility expansion in Medicaid. This approach was taken by the Democrats after exploring expanding eligibility benefits in Medicare, which the CBO did indicate would aDd approximately 1.5 billion in deficits to that system over the first ten years. Knowing this was politically not workable even within their own party, they cynically put the burden on the states. Utah as an example using moderate projections of cost will need to increase Medicaid to be the second largest component of the state's budget. To do this will require both increased tax revenue and moving monies from public education, higher education, other social services, etc. All this with no real improvement in the delivery system and no meaningful restraints on increasing medical treatment costs. Why do this? Use models developed around the world, and start over with a real solution.

  • Hellooo Salt Lake City, UT
    May 21, 2012 9:04 p.m.

    UBD I would suggest you study the northern European countries socialist states more closely as they have led the way in modernizing their health care systems and social entitlement programs. Even with these changes their entitlements are not sustainable, without the USA absorbing basically all of their costs for national defense. Further, the European Union is the prime example against a single pay system as each nation maintains its own method with considerable diversity. If the party, I historically supported, the Democrats would be less intransigent a workable solution for our current unsustainable entitlement services can be found. Instead, their demagoguery of every suggestion for a step towards a solution moves us closer to a time when choices will not be available.

  • There You Go Again Saint George, UT
    May 21, 2012 4:39 p.m.

    @lone star cougar 9:44 AM

    You forgot to mention that ALL people on "welfare" drive Cadillacs.

    You're welcome.

  • Eric Samuelsen Provo, UT
    May 21, 2012 4:19 p.m.

    Senator Bennett paints with brushstrokes too broad to fit the picture. He's right, of course, that Greece is an economic basket case. But entitlements are only a tiny part of the picture.

    The biggest problem the Greek government has right now is taxation. Specifically, nobody pays taxes. A poll of their Parliament recently showed that it was essentially made up entirely of tax cheats. Tax cheats are almost never prosecuted, and if found guilty of non-payment of taxes, you're subject only to a small fine, which most Greeks also don't pay. About the only tax that gets collected is the VAT on tourism. Unemployment is huge, tax revenues are low, they have essentially no industial base, and despite an educated populace, almost no entrepreneurship. To compare the US to Greece is not like comparing apples to oranges, it's like comparing apples to arsenic.

    What we can learn from Europe is that austerity doesn't work. Lessons for the US, must be to not follow Europe's path. Our focus needs to be on fixing unemployment, and the lesson must be, you can't solve unemployment by increasing unemployment.

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    May 21, 2012 2:19 p.m.

    We keep hearing the super whine of that reprehensible type of neo-con:
    47% don't pay any taxes!. Just like the other jumbo lies of sectional interest, first of all it isn't true. You have to know that these folk, when they talk of those who pay 'no taxes' they mean those who pay no INCOME taxes. Let's look at that:

    Of course, before 1913, there were no income taxes at all. It was an extra-constitutional tax -that is never mentioned in the original Constitution.

    When income tax was first levied in 1913 it was not paid on all income but, just like today, there were exemptions. I feel sure that the exemptions ($3,000 for a single person, and $4,000 for a married filer) actually exempted the vast majority from paying ANY income tax.

    Updating to 2010 equivalence, that meant no single filer earning less than about $66K, and no married filer less than $88K, paid income tax at. IT on any overage was levied at just ONE PERCENT.

    The top rate of income tax was the massive 7% paid by what Reagan equated to modern "millionaires".

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 21, 2012 1:09 p.m.

    To Shawnm750: I don't know how old you are, but if you remember the campaign of 92, Bill Clinton promised to "end welfare as we know it." He did just that. There is now a five year lifetime limit on welfare benefits. The kind of problem you describe has been eliminated many years ago, and by a Democrat no less.

  • Jonathan Eddy Payson, UT
    May 21, 2012 12:28 p.m.

    "Many Americans cannot survive without entitlement payments...."

    And the Constitution cannot survive with them. We're in quite a pickle aren't we?

  • Shawnm750 West Jordan, UT
    May 21, 2012 12:11 p.m.

    I've long felt the sense of entitlement by some people in this country has gotten WAY out of control! When you have people who are the 4th generation of their family living on welfare, you know there is a serious problem! To me there's a clear difference between government ASSISTANCE and government SUBSISTENCE. I know there are many people who literally do depend on help from the government because without it they would be homeless or dead, and are incapable of ever giving anything back. But there are far too many in the system who are given a handout without any kind of serious requirement from them. The government should be requiring of people to earn that assistance, especially if they've never (or hardly) contributed to the pool in the first place. Start using some of these people to staff government programs. It would be a great benefit to those who are unemployed, because it will keep them in the habit of working, and when they do go to reapply for work, they can show they haven't just been sitting at home for months (or years...) Earning it, makes it more meaningful!

  • Fitness Freak Salt Lake City, UT
    May 21, 2012 11:35 a.m.

    As a nation, we need to decide if we REALLY want/need to be the worlds policeman.

    We have U.S. troops (not just embassy marines)in over 90 countries around the world. We can't afford that anymore.

    The military/industrial complex lobby is VERY powerful. Sadly, my own party (Republican)don't seem to be able to get off the "save the world" bandwagon.

    I would prefer U.S. citizens be helped FIRST. Even if they don't work for a defense contractor!

  • Lone Star Cougar Plano, TX
    May 21, 2012 11:21 a.m.

    UBD - Both are true. 50% of the employed don't pay income taxes. I believe all should have at least a little responsibility. Also, the last 4 years have been a disaster in employment. 2 million people less are working now than when Obama took office. Of those that are working, many are under-employed. One does not negate the other but merely exacerbate each other. Americans need to start taking responsibility for themselves and not always look for the government's teat to suck from.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    May 21, 2012 10:50 a.m.

    I have to love comments like "On top of that 1/2 of Americans don't even pay any federal income tax." And yet in the next conversation when it turns to employment, we are constantly bombarded with messages that we have deep underemployment - that only 58-59% percent of Americans are employeed. Matching those two numbers up, we are really only talking then about 8 or 9 percent of working people don't pay income taxes, because you need an income to be taxed.

    This fact bending silly quotes is really getting old... real old. MOst issues are neither conservative, nor liberal. Stop playing fancy with politically driven rhetoric (even propoganda), and lets talk solutions. This my side is better than your side is getting us no where.

  • CynicJim Taylorsville, UT
    May 21, 2012 10:28 a.m.

    I find interesting how many people worry about how Romney spends his money and no one seems to worry about Obama and Congress are spending mine.
    There are lots of entitlements that could be reduced/eliminated starting with corporate farms, oil, arts, etal.
    If 70% of job creation comes from small businesses why aren't they rewarded with tax breaks? And as for tax breaks, of course they go to big income earners, they are the one that pay the tax. Entitlers don't get tax breaks because they pay no tax!

  • Gildas LOGAN, UT
    May 21, 2012 9:47 a.m.

    The "father of Reaganomics", and assistant secretary to the Treasury under Reagan, Paul Craig Roberts said:

    When you hear a Republican sneer “entitlement,” he or she is referring to Social Security and Medicare, for which people have paid 15% of their wages for their working lifetime.

    Obviously there are at least two kinds of Republicans today and Bob Bennett would be the type referred to above, rather than the kind of man Dr Roberts is, or Ron Paul, for that matter. Sr Hatch is of the same ilk, proposing that "the poor" are not paying enough tax.

    OTH Ron Paul remains an advocate of respecting promises made to, and paid for by, seniors but offering newcomers in the workplace the choice of opting out of the social security system.

    Makes sense, but seemingly not to "entitled" politicians like Hatch and Bennett who have no quirks about taking far more substantial amounts of public money to themselves, than seniors receive of right. There is neither justice nor mercy in the selfish attitudes of some politicians.

  • Lone Star Cougar Plano, TX
    May 21, 2012 9:44 a.m.

    Dear Nonconlib,

    We do tax enough, we just spend too much. When the "poor" have 50 inch HD tv's - free medical, free food, free rent, free utilities and make more money from the government by having more babies, then the system is wrong. We are perpetuating the welfare/entitlement state. We have way too many separate agencies that do the same things and the admin costs are too high. Our system is BROKEN!

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 21, 2012 9:38 a.m.

    Lone Star Cougar: "Obamacare won't solve anything. the CBO now says it will cost 2 - 3 Trillion dollars every year. This is too much."

    Total and utter nonsense. You just picked a figure out of thin air and tried passing it off as "fact". It is many orders of magnitude higher than even the worst case projections for Obamacare's costs.

  • pragmatistferlife salt lake city, utah
    May 21, 2012 9:36 a.m.

    I object to the tone of Mr. Bennett. He spends most of the article villifying entitlements, then at the end admits that many of Americans couldn't survive without entitlements. Why is it Americans can't survive without SS and Medicare? It's because civil societies have always had to decide how to deal with the elderly and less fortunate (infirm, sick, incapable, temporarily struggling etc.). America is no different. Those decisions were made decades ago with SS, medicare, and medicaid. As much as some who routinely write on this thread would like we're not going back to family centric welfare..we can''s's baked..and it's done, so quit villifying it and work to find sustainable solutions.

    Solutions can and should include personal responsibility, and reasonable expectations, but at least three generations have now been born into a society that has itself accepted the responsibility of acting as the base structure for the care and welfare of the elderly and less fortunate. It's time to accept it.

  • Nonconlib Happy Valley, UT
    May 21, 2012 9:12 a.m.

    Yes, we all know we need "entitlement" reform. We can do this in a reasonable way that won't penalize the truly needy. Why, for instance, Mitt Romney would ever need Social Security or Medicare is beyond me. But we must also be honest on the other side of the ledger. We need to increase revenues. This is not just a spending problem. We have committed billions to all sorts of unnecessary causes (including two wildly expensive wars) without being willing to tax sufficiently to pay for even those things we really need.

    As long as we keep sending people to Washington who wear ideological blinders of one sort or another and are unwilling to give up their one-sided view of life for a few moments so that they can meet in the middle and compromise, we will never solve our problems. I would vote for a true patriot from either major party (or some third party or no party at all) over a partisan politician of any stripe. So, Utah, if you want the U.S. to be like Greece, keep sending Mike Lees and Jason Chaffetzes to Congress.

  • Lone Star Cougar Plano, TX
    May 21, 2012 9:06 a.m.

    In large part, JCS is correct. We have too many different agencies handing out too many monies to too many people. On top of that 1/2 of Americans don't even pay any federal income tax. We are borrowing 1.5 trillion dollars every year to cover our spending. America has a spending problem. We need to face up to it now before it is too late! Obamacare won't solve anything. the CBO now says it will cost 2 - 3 Trillion dollars every year. This is too much. Europe is broke and we are heading that way. Ms. thatcher had it riht when she said socialism works great until you run out of other people's money.

  • Blue Salt Lake City, UT
    May 21, 2012 8:26 a.m.

    JCS: "The first three commenters have not been honest about the example of Greece. They seek to excuse the disaster of Greece, when the truth is that the catastrophe of Greece is the inevitable fate of all welfare states."


    1) I was one of the three first commenters. I never mentioned Greece. I commented on the glaring discrepancy between entitlement programs that conservatives want to cut, vs. the entitlement programs they think are sacred.

    2) "the catastrophe of Greece is the inevitable fate of all welfare states." You know perfectly well that "welfare state" is a loaded term with wildly varying definitions, and to compare Greece with northern European nations that do a better job of taking care of their children, poor and elderly than we do is hugely misleading. Do you do that intentionally?

    3) Is it possible for you, just once, to post a comment here that doesn't make sweeping generalizations about "left-wing extremists?"

  • John Charity Spring Back Home in Davis County, UT
    May 21, 2012 7:49 a.m.

    The first three commenters have not been honest about the example of Greece. They seek to excuse the disaster of Greece, when the truth is that the catastrophe of Greece is the inevitable fate of all welfare states.

    As Greek chaos clearly shows, welfare states create lazy, indolent populations that react with anger and violence the first time they are asked to do even a little bit to provide for themselves. They think nothing of using violence to keep the entitlement handouts coming.

    American voters must wake up and realize that the left-wing is leading this Country down the path to becoming just another Greece. Unless the voters throw the left-wing extremists out of office, America will join Greece in trading democracy for anarchy.

  • travelrus murray, UT
    May 21, 2012 7:41 a.m.

    These sound like good ideas to me but, as long as we keep electing representatives like Mike Lee nothing will change. I'm really afraid that Mia Love will be the same kind of uncompromising elected Utah representative. We are all very tired of Washington doing nothing to fix our problems. I believe that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. The tax system must be made simpler and fair. I believe in balanced budgets but not at the expense of education, infrastructure, the environmment and the safety net programs our society relies on.

  • Blue Salt Lake City, UT
    May 21, 2012 7:14 a.m.

    "Entitlement" comes in many forms.

    Are US defense contractors "entitled" to a US military budget three times larger than that of China and Russia combined?

    Are US millionaires "entitled" to special tax breaks on their private jets, yachts and the money they keep in their Cayman Islands tax shelters?

    Is the US oil industry, currently earning record-breaking profits, "entitled" to billions in taxpayer-provided subsidies?

    Republicans would have you believe that their own substantial taxpayer-funded benefits are sacred and untouchable, while providing the elderly and children with access to medical care is a luxury we can't afford.

    When our schools no longer have to hold bake sales so they can buy books and Mitt Romney pays the same percentage in taxes on his income that I do on mine, _then_ we can talk about the need to control entitlement spending.

  • UtahBlueDevil Durham, NC
    May 21, 2012 5:40 a.m.

    I have an idea. Lets let the "conservatives" back up their rhetoric with their actions. Put principle ahead of words. Renounce entitlements, personally. Reject hand outs. Decline to take social security. Return those disability checks. Hand back that medicare card, and pay your own insurance. Show what 1/3 of the voting American public can do, what change and be made when this groups does what it claims it wants. Show us the depths and convictions of your beliefs.

    That 1/3 of people turning down benefits should be enough to not only balance the budget, but also lower the tax rate for all. The grand kids conservatives so worry about paying too much taxes will no longer have that concern any more through the sacrifice to teach America that conservatives stand behind what they believe.

    Lead, and more will surely follow. Take that first leap. Just as many burned their draft cards in the 60s to make a point, burn that social security check and turn in your medicare card - stand for what you say.

    Or we could just keep carrying on with endless rhetoric drivel that is solely intended to make one feel better than others.

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    May 21, 2012 12:34 a.m.

    Greece has a backward, unproductive economy (apologies to my Greek friends), they should never have been allowed into the Euro-zone. But it is obviously too late to undo that now. Countries with more productive economies like Denmark, Norway, and Holland, support a much larger social welfare state than Greece does, and they are doing fine economically.

    Either staying with an austerity plan within the Euro, or leaving the Euro and going back to Drachmas will bring great economic pain. There is truly no good option for their economy.

    Our long-term budget problems are primarily caused by having the world's most expensive healthcare (by far). If we could get our healthcare spending down to the level of France or Germany, our long budget outlook would be pretty decent.