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What the heck happened to America?

The oft-asked question during this presidential race is, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?"

The party out of power — this year the Republicans — loves to try to corner the incumbent with this query, especially if we've had a rough couple of years.

It's a relevant, though simplistic approach.

Considering the state of the union, however, here is a question that citizens can pose to both political parties:

"What the heck happened to America?"

Consider the following:

* The national debt has reached $16 trillion. The amount we owe has increased over $5 trillion during President Obama's first term; it took President Bush two terms to reach $5 trillion in additional debt.

* The annual interest on the debt is about $500 billion. About one-third of our debt is owned by foreign countries.

* According to the CBO, the federal debt held by the public is more than 70 percent of GDP. That's the highest level since just after WWII.

* The Wall Street Journal reported last May that Census Bureau figures show that half of all Americans live in a household that receives at least one government benefit and many likely receive more than one.

* The Tax Policy Center says that in 2011, 46 percent of all households paid no federal income taxes.

* The number of Americans receiving food stamps has reached a record 46.7 million, while the cost of the program has doubled in the last four years to nearly $76 billion.

n Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute reports that entitlement payments in 2010 were 100 times larger than they were in 1960. Eberstadt says "even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727 percent in the past half-century."

If there's any question whether the American political system has fostered an entitlement mentality, consider that nearly two-thirds of all the money the government spends every year are transfer payments.

President Obama is an apostle of big government. Federal spending and transfer payments have risen with alarming speed during his tenure, but he is hardly alone when it comes to increasing the size of the welfare state.

Eberstadt writes that "the unsettling truth (is that) both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending."

The result, Eberstadt concludes, is that our historical fierce and principled independence is being supplanted by statism and dependence.

The cost of this transformation is evident in the rapid and unsustainable increase in our debt and the expanding expectation of entitlement over opportunity.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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