When Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government the Constitution had bequeathed to us, he famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it."

The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Dependence on Government is out and it is clear that our republic may be slipping away from us through the phenomenon of rapidly-increasing dependence on government. Indeed, the introduction to the index poses this very question:

Can this republican form of government withstand the political weight of a massively growing population of Americans who receive government benefits and who contribute little or nothing for them?

Tina Korbe of Hot Air goes through the report and notes that since Barack Obama became president dependence on government has increased by 23 percent.

The cost of dependency on the federal government in 2010 was more than 15 times what it was in 1962, when Index measurements began to be kept. But now the price is escalating at a faster pace: In 2010 alone, it grew by 8.1 percent.

The sectors where growth in dependence on government was most pronounced in that one year period were housing (13 percent), health care and welfare (13.1 percent), and retirement (3.1 percent). “Much of that growth in new debt can be traced to programs that encourage dependence,” Heritage notes.

Coming from the other end of the equation is another threat to the republic’s financial health: the growing number of people who pay no federal income taxes and are not claimed as dependents by somebody who does pay taxes. This group jumped from 14.8 percent of the population in 1984 to 49.5 percent in 2009. The index notes that this means that in 1984, 34.8 million tax filers paid no taxes, while in 2009, the number of those who paid no federal income tax was 151.7 million.

Financially this is unsustainable, but culturally it is even more of a catastrophe: When government takes over, other institutions such as self-help or mutual aid organizations, shrink. Religious and educational organizations once helped low-income Americans with their housing needs. Now the government does it. Unfortunately, "help" from government is often permanently crippling. Heritage explains:

[S]upport provided by families, churches, and other civil society groups aims to restore a person to full flourishing and personal responsibility, and, ultimately, to be able to aid another person in turn. This kind of reciprocal expectation does not characterize the dependent relationship with the political system. The former relationship is essential to the existence of civil society itself. The latter is usually based on one-sided aid without accountability for a person’s regained responsibility for self and toward his community. Indeed, the “success” of such government programs is frequently measured by the program’s growth rather than by whether it helps recipients to escape dependence.

In other news, “The White House Has No Opinion on Whether the Senate Should Pass a Budget.” It has been more than a 1,000 days since a federal budget was passed.