It ?s increasingly evident that national healthcare will loom large in the upcoming presidential election. The leading democrat candidates have come out with their proposals for the creation of a new health care entitlement using the government operated, single payer model. On the right, Mitt Romney has put forth a mostly private market model for achieving the same goal.
The three big entitlement programs already in existence, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, at present consume about half of the entire federal budget. The future unfunded liabilities of these programs are huge. Demographics tell us that somewhere between 2015 ?2020, taxes will have to be raised radically above fifty percent of someone ?s income in order to pay for these entitlements. I firmly believe that such heavy future burdens on our children and/or grandchildren make it vital that we strive to heed the instruction from the Savior in this regard:
And now, verily I say unto you concerning the laws of the land, it is my will that my people should observe to do all things whatsoever I command them. (D&C 98:4)
That said, before we vote to add another government entitlement, I ?d like to use the bulk of this column quoting what modern day prophets, seers, and revelators have counseled us regarding government entitlement and welfare programs. What follows are the best and most definitive statements I could find from the General Conference pulpit, general authority authored books, as well as church magazine articles and statements. What I enjoy most about reading what the brethren say on political themes is how they usually explain the principle behind the position ?
The uncertainty of the leadership of men of the world in this day is evidenced by the fact that we have many changing programs that fluctuate between poles of the greatest of uncertainty. We hear much about “the abundant life,” and “social security,” and there are some I fear who are believers in the thought that these goals will come from the working out of the philosophies of men.
Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1941, p.111
Secularism also produced an artificial sense of security. A good example of this is what has happened to our Social Security system in America. Principles gave way to political promises, and the secular theology with its cast your care upon Social Security ? has now exposed its hollowness like the billboard outside Chicago ten years ago that read, Borrow enough from us to get completely out of debt. ? Sad as it is to say it, the hard choices ahead for the nation regarding our Social Security system could pit the young against the old and the middle class against the poor. The system is scarcely social ? in such a setting; likewise, the financial unsoundness of the system scarcely deserves the word Security. What we have is thus neither social nor security. Ahead of us are additional days of reckoning besides the one noted many times in the Bible.
Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, October 1978; The Prohibitive Costs of a Value-free Society ?
?giving something for nothing is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the Church. The real purpose of the Church Security Plan is to assist each individual to secure independence to help make him self-supporting, to replace idleness with thrift and productivity. Here again Jesus’ teachings are applicable. His plan was to make the individual right, and then the group of many such individuals, or society, will be right.
James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol.6, p.40
Let us as Latter-day Saints stand on our own feet. Let us not be inclined to run to a paternalistic government for help when every problem arises, but to attack our problems jointly, and through effective cooperative effort, solve our problems at home.
To me one of the greatest bulwarks we have in this country against all the foreign isms, “crackpot” theories, and the unsound social reforms is the people ?
Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1945, p.163-164
Now, in view of the eminent leadership position American industry has attained in the world, how is it that in recent years moves have been made that ultimately will practically destroy our free-enterprise system and end in socialism or statism or a welfare state (take your choice of terms)–moves that are substituting highly inflationary financial policies for the time-honored soundness of the past and moves tending to create the feeling that the government offers the best social security available ?
Joseph F. Merrill, Conference Report, April 1950, p.61
?in addition to direct debt, the government has piled up huge unfunded liabilities and commitments for future spending that total more than the [national] debt itself. Two years ago, as Budget Director, Stans [an economist he ?d been quoting] compiled a list of these obligations maturing in the future ?and it came to about $450 billion. Added to the current debt at close to $300 billion, our total commitments now reach the almost incredible total of $750 billion, or three-quarters of a trillion dollars. And even this stratospheric amount does not include another $250 or $300 billion we will need to collect in future tax increases to make good on our present promises under the social security system.
Government costs are booming because not enough people have been willing to say ‘No’ to government. On the other hand, spending pressure groups of all kinds have been steadily and successfully entreating Congress to provide a wide assortment of aids and handouts.
Ezra Taft Benson, BYU Speeches, February 28, 1962, p.5
(This is especially prescient and relevant when one looks at the unfunded liability number today, which ranges between 5-7 trillion dollars.)
The spirit of the American government must be restored. Man must earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, then the old time patriotism will again be in the hearts of men.
The real test of the strength of civilization is in the moral capacity of the rank and file of the citizens to give up the pleasures of the present for greater rewards in the future. This quality is the foundation of both moral and spiritual character. The social security of a nation is based on the character of the citizens, not on the amount of material comforts the government may bestow upon them. Hard work and sacrifice make men strong. Ease and gifts from any source are destructive to efficiency, character, and citizenship. Social security is in the character of the citizens and hence must come from within. Social security can not be bestowed from without.
Levi Edgar Young, Conference Report, October 1936, p.67-68
For those who may still be in doubt as to what the brethren have instructed us, here are the basics of a plan offered from the general Conference pulpit on eliminating entitlement programs:
How is it possible to cut out the various welfare-state features of our government that have already fastened themselves like cancer cells onto the body politic? Can drastic surgery be performed without endangering the patient? Drastic measures are called for. No compromise actions will suffice. Like all surgery, it will not be without discomfort and perhaps even some scar tissue for a long time to come. But it must be done if the patient is to be saved and it can be done without undue risk.
Not all welfare-state programs currently in force can be dropped simultaneously without causing tremendous economic and social upheaval. The first step toward restoring the limited concept of government should be to freeze all welfare-state programs at their present levels, making sure that no new ones are added. The next step would be to allow all present programs to run out their term with absolutely no renewal. The third step would involve the gradual phasing-out of those programs which are indefinite in their term. The bulk of the transition could be accomplished, I believe, within a ten-year period and virtually completed within 20 years.
Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, October 1968, p.21
Just think if President (then Elder) Benson ?s prophetic counsel had been implemented. The various evils spoken of or prophesied by the preceding general authorities would have either ceased to exist or would have been greatly reduced by 1998. Note also how Elder Maxwell posits that our inattention to the unconstitutionality of entitlements is bringing additional trials upon us: Ahead of us are additional days of reckoning besides the one noted many times in the Bible. ?
I don ?t believe there is much debate to be had as to whether or not we, as Latter-day Saints, should be supporting big government entitlements. I also realize that there are many who would disagree with that statement and have justified their support of these programs using Christian charity as the grounds. To those members all I can do is quote Ezra Taft Benson on why the two are not equivalent:
When you accept food stamps, you accept an unearned handout that other working people are paying for. You do not earn food stamps or welfare payments. Every individual who accepts an unearned government gratuity is just as culpable as the individual who takes a handout from taxpayers money to pay his heat, electricity, or rent. There is no difference in principle between them ? You came here to be a light to the world, a light to society to save society and to help to save this nation, the Lord’s base of operations in these last days ?You are not here to be a parasite or freeloader. The price you pay for “something for nothing” may be more than you can afford. Do not rationalize your acceptance of government gratuities by saying, “I am a contributing taxpayer too.” By doing this you contribute to the problem which is leading this nation to financial insolvency.
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.262
I hope and pray that despite any differences we may have at present that we can strive to align ourselves with the prophets and resolve those differences in order to line up behind the right vote. We can work it out ?I know we can. And when we do, we will go forth with the confidence that comes from doing what brother Joseph observed:
Joseph used to say, “When you get the Latter-day Saints to agree on any point, you may know it is the voice of God.”
Discourses of Brigham Young, 12:301, p.469
Once that is accomplished, let us use our influence as President John Taylor counseled:
Let us stick to our covenants, and get as near to correct principles as we can, and God will help us. We want to be united in other things as well–in our elections, for instance, we should act as a unit. Other men are not ashamed to use their influence and operate in behalf of their party; why should we? As American citizens, have we not the same right? Yes, we have. Then let us be one and operate as one, for God and his kingdom.
John Taylor, September 22, 1878, Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.59 – p.60
Every good thing ?