The Heritage Foundation’s Attack on Government – Part I

On May 6, 2013, the Heritage Foundation released a report intended to weaken support for a comprehensive immigration reform bill, entitled, “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer.”  The report attempts to project the amount of taxes that will be paid by immigrants, if a pending immigration reform bill is passed, and the dollar value of government benefits that immigrants will receive.  The report projects that the cost of benefits that will be paid to immigrants and their children will be much greater than the taxes they will pay. 

I don’t want to go over the reasoning in the Heritage Foundation’s calculations.  That’s already been done by others.  (See, for instance, the article that appeared on the Washington Post website on May 6, written by Dylan Matthews.)  I want to make a different point:  the Heritage Foundation’s approach constitutes an attack on all government benefit programs – programs that benefit middle class and working class and elderly and poor people, whether or not they are immigrants. 

The Heritage Foundation’s argument is that taxpayers are losers with respect to social support payments.  People who receive those benefits are takers, according to the Heritage Foundation’s report: they receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes.  Under the Foundation’s reasoning, a large portion of the American public falls into the taker category.  The authors argue that the average American household receives $1,158 more in government benefits than it pays in taxes.  The report suggests that the governments that pay for these benefits are already too large.  It says that the combined value of federal, state, and local expenditures in FY 2010 was $5.4 trillion.

The claims are that government is too big, social welfare programs need to be cut, and too many Americans receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes and are properly characterized as takers.  These arguments should sound familiar.  They were basic themes in the 2012 presidential election.  Remember the comments of Mitt Romney, captured on videotape?  Mr. Romney said:

“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it – that that’s an entitlement.  And the government should give it to them.  And they will vote for the president no matter what….There are people who pay no income tax….and so my job is not to worry about those people.  I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

This theory of American society was soundly rejected in the 2012 presidential election returns.  Voters do not believe that programs such as Social Security and Medicare support an irresponsible class of takers. 

The Heritage Foundation report is not just an attack on immigration reform.  It is an attempt to reassert theories of government that were repudiated by a majority of the voting public in the 2012 elections.  These ideas are not going to go away easily.  They need to be recognized for what they are.