The Federal Government Is So Big, It Even Takes the Washington Post’s Breath Away

On the front page of today’s Washington Post, above the fold, a news story begins:

If nothing else, the crisis over the debt ceiling is reminding the country of the astonishing reach of the federal spigot, encapsulated by a figure that President Obama tossed out recently: The government sends out “70 million checks” every month.

Reporter Alec MacGillis went on to note that the president underestimated:

The figures used by Obama and Geithner were, if anything, too low. They relied on Treasury Department figures from June that include Social Security (56 million checks that month), veterans benefits (4.5 million checks), and spending on non-defense contractors and vendors (1.8 million checks).

But those numbers do not include reimbursements to Medicare providers and vendors (100 million claims in June), and electronic transfers to the 21 million households receiving food stamps.

Nor do they include most spending by the Defense Department, which has a payroll of 6.4 million active and retired employees and, on average, pays nearly 1 million invoices and 660,000 travel expense claims per month.

However, we should remember that

The mind-boggling number challenges a common critique of the federal government as a creaky apparatus where tax dollars are lost in the bureaucratic cracks. From the vantage point of the 70 million or 80 million checks, the government is a finely tuned machine that brings in revenue and disperses it back out across the country.

Whew. For a minute there I was worried.