Over the weekend, President Obama turned a particularly noisome phrase in his regular radio address — one that has been employed by a rogues gallery that includes everyone from Tom Friedman to Jon Huntsman. The rhetorical gem in question:
… after more than a decade of war, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.
Please. The implicit assumption of this statement — that we’ve been going without at home due to expenditures abroad — is obliterated by even a cursory look at the federal ledger over recent years. A new study by the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner shows how wide of the mark — in regard to the welfare state, at least — this contention is:
In 2011 the federal government spent roughly $668.2 billion on … 126 [federal programs designed to fight poverty].
That represents an increase of more than $193 billion since Barack Obama became president. This is roughly two and a half times greater than any increase over a similar time frame in U.S. history, and it means an increase in means-tested welfare spending of about 2.4 percent of GDP. If one includes state and local welfare spending, government at all levels will spend more than $952 billion this year to fight poverty.
To put this in perspective, the defense budget this year, including spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totals $685 billion.
Indeed, federal welfare spending alone totals more than $14,848 for every poor man, woman, and child in this country. For a typical poor family of three, that amounts to more than $44,500. Combined with state and local spending, government spends $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three. Given that the poverty line for that family is just $18,530, we should have theoretically wiped out poverty in America many times over.
Problem? Yes. Problem with insufficient spending? No.