Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has been talking up the importance of including welfare reform in any serious discussion of fiscal reform. In a statement earlier this week, he expressed amazement that "welfare - the largest budget item - has been largely exempt from discussions of fiscal reform."
"Experts on both sides of the aisle agree that we need a bare minimum of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years," wrote Sessions. "It will take much more than that to balance the budget, so $4 trillion is a starting point. There is the potential to achieve one quarter of the $4 trillion in ten-year savings through welfare reform."
That's partly due to the immense size of means-tested welfare programs, including "food stamps, public housing, and cash aid." Sessions noted that these programs actually consume more annual spending than Medicare, Social Security, or national defense. "The nation spends enough on federal poverty programs to send every household beneath the poverty line a yearly check for $60,000," he noted, citing Congressional Research Service data.
And the astonishing pace of growth for these programs shows no sign of slowing down during the second half of the Obama presidency - they grew 30 percent over the last four years, and they'll grow another 30 percent in the next four. The government is still expending considerable effort on recruiting even more beneficiaries to its $800 billion food stamp program. Many of those efforts have been directed toward bringing more Mexican citizens into the United States. "One of the bedrock legal principles of immigration is that those coming to American should not be reliant on federal assistance," he wrote. "That principle has been steadily eroded."
Sessions called for "sound, careful, compassionate reforms" that would work out best for both the federal treasury and welfare recipients, by "confronting poverty, strengthening the family, and improving the outlook for millions of struggling Americans." He'll need to lay out specific proposals, with dollar amounts, to keep these ideas on the table during the "fiscal cliff" brinksmanship we'll see throughout the final months of this Congress. Sessions appeared on CNN Friday morning to discuss the fiscal cliff in detail, warning against last-minute budget deals and secret negotiations: