AUSTIN – Our nation's $14 trillion debt comes to about $45,000 for every man, woman, and child. Later this week, a presidential commission will release its findings on how to reduce that deficit which could include cuts to some of the signature, celebrated programs of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
With the stroke of several pens, now on display at his presidential library, President Johnson signed many of the programs of his Great Society into law, including unprecedented federal spending on entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Whatever the philosophical reasons behind the programs which make up the Great Society, Americans are poised to have a fiscal discussion about whether they can be sustained into the future.
Johnson's landmark legislation is coming under fresh attack as a commission tasked with reducing the nation's debt load readies its report.
In his book Fed Up, fellow Texan Gov. Rick Perry paints Johnson’s Great Society as a doorway to unbridled spending.
"Empowered by the brazen abandonment of limited government under the new deal and subsequent regimes, from the great society to the current administration, Washington is steering America down a path to destruction," he wrote.
Conservative commentators believe Great Society programs will not be safe in the current budget climate in Washington.
Recession-weary Americans, even those visiting Johnson’s library, also believe it could be time for change.
"If they could roll it back to the point where it wouldn't hurt the people who really depend on those type services,” said Carol Cox, who was visiting from Bay Minette, Alabama.
Johnson scholars, including Dr. Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, insist Great Society programs dampened the blow of the recent recession.
"Just imagine what this would have been like without food stamps, without Social Security, without unemployment insurance? It would have been just devastating,” he said.
While there is disagreement over whether Great Society programs are the solution or the problem, there is bi-partisan agreement that the nation's debt should shrink for its future to grow.