Now that the tax reform legislation has been passed, adding $1 trillion to the national debt, the dependent populations in society can expect that 2018 will bring an onslaught of cutbacks in programs created to help the helpless.

Programs for dependents include, among others, Medicaid, Medicare, handicapped, food stamps, nursing homes, rural hospitals, addicts, rehabilitation of all kinds and a wide range of helpful subsidies.

Champions of the "have nots" will be told that cutbacks are necessary because of the $1 trillion in new debt added by the tax cut to the old debt of $21 trillion gives us more red ink than the economy can bear. It will be a persuasive argument.

The cutback rush has already started, with Kentucky getting permission to cut back Medicaid benefits to people who may be able-bodied but not working. Ten other states have lined up for permission to hunt down able-bodied cheaters.

In the past, Republicans have been convinced that the food stamp and Medicaid programs are full of able-bodied people freeloading on the hardworking taxpayers. At the same time Democrats dig in their heels, concerned that overzealous Republicans will slash and burn without regard to genuine needs.

One liberal articulated this concern with the allegation that the Kentucky plan is to reduce the health coverage for thousands of people and make it harder for those covered to get care.

It doesn't help when the extremists propose limiting Medicaid eligibility to five years and then dumping the clients on community organizations and other private sources.

It is about time the Republicans and Democrats consider joining forces to deal with the speculation that programs are full of ineligible clients. This speculation has been a chronic drag on reasonable policy development.

Republicans need to cool their ardor for relentless budget-cutting and Democrats need to tone down their paternalism. It would be to the benefit of both the Democrats and Republicans to know the real dimensions of the problem and put an end to the guessing.

Nobody wants to support able-bodied dependents in any of the programs. Democrats ought to join the Republican search for the facts. There aren't as many as Republicans think or as few as Democrats think.

For starters, let's take a realistic look at the pool of possible free riders. Kentucky has already listed categories that will be exempt from the check. Other states are very likely to make the same list.

Clients on food stamps and Medicaid already working full-time jobs would be exempt. In most states, that will be half of the recipients.

Other exempt categories include students, the physically and mentally handicapped, caregivers, single mothers, job trainees, community volunteers, children and those with substance abuse disorders.

By the time we add up the numbers, only 20 percent of all clients will make up the pool of potential loafers. Even so, the search for ineligibles should be done so everyone can know the size of the problem and speculation can be put to rest.

Now let's be brutally frank about the huge numbers of dependent people in our society. They are dependent for all sorts of reasons — bad luck, poor families, shortsightedness and bad decisions. In many cases, they lacked the foresight to plan for a self-reliant life.

There is a reason that they are dependent and have created a need for paternalism. It is up to Republicans and Democrats to share the common goal of reducing dependency. Unfortunately, our policies have been quick fixes when we ought to invest in the long haul. Changing behavior is a long-term objective.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.

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