Just How Big Is The Federal Government? Over 100 Million Checks Sent Out Each Month

Consider: the population of the United States is a bit over 311 million, yet, we start off with Obama unintentionally telling us that government is too damned involved in American life

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.

That works out to 27 payments per second, day after day – not just to the expected recipients, such as contractors, federal workers and Social Security beneficiaries, but also to those you might not think of, such as the victims of black lung disease and their widows (50,032 checks in June), and pensioners supported by the Railroad Retirement Board (613,912).

But, wait, it gets better!

Obama used the figure to illustrate the dire consequences if the government fails to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline. This week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner upped the figure to 80 million in making a similar point.

But, wait, even that number is too low

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.

As the TV commercials always say, but, wait, there’s more

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.

At least the DoD is Constitutionally required.

Finally, did I say “100 million” in the headline? If we add them all together, we’re probably looking at 200 million+ “checks” sent out every month. For a population of 311 million.

Crossed at Pirate’s Cove. Follow me on Twitter @WilliamTeach.

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