In the 1930s, Congressional factions argued over President Roosevelt's plan for a Social Security system. In the 1960s, many legislators voted against Medicare, Head Start and other linchpins of President Johnson's "Great Society" program. Today, however, the debate centers not on whether the government should have a role in providing public services -- educating the young, providing for the elderly and disabled, caring for the sick and helping the needy -- but rather whether it should have the primary role in doing so. Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, believes not only that government has the responsibility to address these social issues, but that it has a unique capability to do so. Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, insists that the responsibility and capability rests with society at large, of which government is only a part. On issues like education, Social Security and poverty, Gore continually favors an expansion of government's role: more federal money for teachers, crumbling schools and universal preschool; a massive new entitlement program, above and beyond Social Security, to match poor workers' contributions to retirement savings accounts; and increases in the minimum wage, Earned Income Tax Credit and federal child- and dependent-care subsidies. Bush, on the other hand, says that the government's role should be limited, its authority devolved to states, local governments, the free market and the private citizen. He advocates allowing workers to divert some of their Social Security taxes to individual accounts they can invest in pursuit of higher returns. Rather than increase the federal education budget, he supports private school vouchers and local charter schools, and would force underperforming public schools to improve or close down. And instead of tax credits and subsidies, his poverty program emphasizes charitable giving and the role of local faith-based organizations. In the face of a Social Security system headed for insolvency and a crumbling public education system, voters have a choice between a government with nearly unlimited funds but a less-than-stellar track record, or a free market celebrated for its efficiency but also responsible for some of the inequality in society that government programs seek to mitigate.Comments powered by Disqus
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