America’s welfare state has grown into an unwieldy hodgepodge of programs that provide various forms of assistance to tens of millions of Americans. It costs taxpayers nearly a trillion dollars annually and experts predict that, absent reform, it will keep growing in the years ahead.
The welfare state acquired its girth by following a familiar script — over and over again. The latest performance came at a recent hearing of the House Education and Labor Committee, which is pondering yet another proposed expansion of government: the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” an $8 billion add-on to the nation’s school-lunch and other child-nutrition programs. Here’s the routine:
Invite a star witness, in this case a celebrity chef, to draw media attention to the proposal.
Paint those supporting the plan as pure as the driven snow; smear those who object as callous Scrooges who (in this case) despise children.
Declare a “national crisis” to create a sense of urgency. In this case we face twin crises: nearly one in three children is obese, unfit for military service, and on track for adult-onset diabetes, while another 16 million kids go hungry because their parents must choose between “keeping the lights on or putting food on the table.”
Bring in a top dog from the administration to claim the moral high ground on behalf of those who stand to receive the latest government handout. Throw in a panel of “experts” from special-interest groups to up the ante on what needs to be done, thereby framing the chairman’s expensive ($8 billion in this case) plan as nothing more than a modest “first step.”
Finally, engage in some good old-fashioned political jujitsu. Invite a retired general to make the case that growing the welfare state can actually enhance our national security. And argue that “investing” billions today is the fiscally prudent thing to do because it will save much more in health and other societal costs down the road.
Such was the scene last week on Capitol Hill. Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, camera crews in tow, asked the sort of question one always hears whenever Congress considers a welfare expansion. “Why,” he asked, “in this great country, where we produce enough food, are children going hungry every day?”
Committee chairman George Miller (D., Calif.), the bill’s sponsor, tugged on heartstrings, intoning: “We cannot ignore the fact that for millions of children, the only meals that they can count on are those they get at school or in child care.” He also touted the positive effects his bill would have on our fiscal mess. “If we work in the schools to both increase nutritional opportunities and educate kids about the foods they’re eating,” he insisted, “we have a chance to really, dramatically drive down future health-care costs.”