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More on the debt ceiling ... and what drug-testing for welfare has to do with it

May 3, 2011 - Mike Maneval
A week ago I wrote about the debt ceiling and our national debt ... and entitlement spending cuts, and welfare cuts, and tariffs, and reforming the tax code, and cuts to defense spending and the sort of foreign entanglements about which President George Washington warned our country.

It was a post that covered a lot, but hurriedly, and I'd like to take two or three posts to expand upon it, a few of the many thoughts at a time. Fortunately for the purposes of blogging, a topic now commanding attention within our own state fits in.

Since the debt ceiling was instituted in 1962, it has been raised 72 times, according to money.cnn.com. In 1962, our national debt in today's dollars was $2,145,329,659,863. Today, it's about $13,561,623,030,900. One day, that debt will have to be paid off, and the more we delay that day, the more revenues our government will have to then collect simply to pay for the services and benefits of today and the past 30 years. And the more we delay that day, the more dependent we are on foreign debt-holders, limiting our ability to craft policies in the interest of America and Americans and not our foreign benefactors.

It should be clear: The U.S. needs to find ways of reducing spending and increasing revenues to begin to reduce this debt now.

Pennsylvania's junior Senator, Republican Pat Toomey, told a bloomberg.com reporter Democrats are using fears about defaulting "as a cudgel to beat Republicans into submission" on voting to lift the debt ceiling again so the White House and congressional Democrats don't have to "make any concessions about spending."

Toomey and other Republicans are right to withhold support in an effort to force Democrats to compromise, and there are many issues within curtailing the size and scope of assistance programs on which the Democrats could compromise.

Rather than renumerate all the options for assistance reform I listed a week ago, including the large entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, I'd like to focus on one timely item on the list to which i only alluded: Cutting welfare.

Here in Pennsylvania the legislature is considering measures to drug-test welfare recipients. Past efforts in other states have failed on constitutional grounds - the government can not offer a service and then require constituents to sacrifice liberties explicitly protected by the Bill of Rights to collect the service. We can not require federal student loan applicants to surrender their right to exercise religions in disfavor, we can not require Social Security recipients to give up their right to assemble, and we can not expect welfare recipients to subject themselves to unwarranted searches. Some also argue the costs of testing would be greater than the eliminated collecting of benefits by drug-using welfare recipients. I do not know if this is true, or will remain true as testing technologies improve.

But with the questions of the measure's constitutionality, I wonder, if the law were to require police and prosecuting attorneys to obtain the same warrant, justified by an equivalent level of evidence as needed to compel an individual to submit to drug-testing, to inspect or review welfare rolls or other documentation, could we both protect the recipients' rights to due process and cull recreational drug users from benefitting from other taxpayers' hard work? And if this balance can be struck - and if testing can be shown to be cost-effective - is there any reason implementation of police-embargoed drug-testing for welfare shouldn't be a condition for future federal shares of funding?

 
 

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