What does President Obama plan to do to slow or stop the explosive growth in the number of Americans who count on regular welfare checks from the federal government?
Does he consider the expansion of dependent households a positive achievement for his administration or a threat to the long-term vigor of the economy?
These distinctly uncomfortable questions pose a potent threat to an embattled administration already struggling to defend its record of economic management and to secure the president’s reelection. All answers to such challenges would force Barack Obama into untenable political territory and require open admission of glaring and costly failure.
Official figures leave no doubt as to the alarming rise in federal welfare payments since the president took the oath of office in January 2009. The Survey of Income and Program Participation from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that by the end of 2011, nearly 110 million individuals lived in households that received benefits—an increase of 13 million in the first three years of the Obama presidency. This number excludes those who only benefit from Social Security and Medicare—a population that could easily add 50 million to the tally and swell the total to an actual majority of the overall population. The 2011 figures also exclude the new recipients of health insurance premium subsidies under the president’s madly misnamed “Affordable Care Act”—projected by the Congressional Budget Office as at least 25 million more individuals between 2014 and the end of the decade.
The two most costly federal assistance programs, Medicaid and food stamps, registered the most dramatic growth in recent years. Between 2000 and 2011, the count of individuals covered by Medicaid expanded from 34 million to 54 million people. In the same period, recipients of food stamps under SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) almost tripled, from 17 million to 45 million, reaching a yearly cost of $80 billion. In each one of Barack Obama’s first three years as president, the food stamps rolls grew by at least 5.5 million—the top three growth years in all of the program’s 40 year history.