When President Barack Obama declared last week that America "would not be a great country" were it not for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance, he committed one brief moment of partial candor.
"By 2025, the amount of taxes we currently pay will only be enough to finance our health care programs -- Medicare and Medicaid -- Social Security, and the interest we owe on our debt," he said. "That's it. Every other national priority -- education, transportation, even our national security -- will have to be paid for with borrowed money."
Obama's basic fiscal construct here has analytical value, but his timeline is wrong.
We don't need to wait more than a decade for the welfare state to bankrupt America. It is doing it now.
Government programs Obama views as indispensable are already eating up more than every tax dollar hardworking Americans pay to the federal government.
Here's a quick accounting based on the actual numbers for fiscal 2010 reported by Obama's Treasury Department:
Total federal tax revenues in 2010 were $2.0377 trillion.
Social Security cost $571.5 billion -- rounded to the nearest hundred million. Medicare cost $513.7 billion. Medicaid cost $268 billion. And unemployment insurance cost $156.7 billion.
The interest on the national debt for the year was $186.3 billion.
On top of the cost of the actual benefits doled out by welfare-state programs, the federal government also needed to pay $176.2 billion in salaries to federal workers and $63.7 billion for insurance benefits for these workers.
All of these expenses added up to $1.9361 trillion -- or 95 percent of the government's $2.0377 trillion in tax revenue.
After paying for just the expenses listed above, the federal government had only $101.6 billion in tax revenue left.
Now, in his speech declaring that America would not be a great country if not for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and unemployment insurance, the next federal spending "priority" Obama mentioned was "education."
Leaving aside whether the federal government has any constitutional authority to meddle in primary and secondary education (it does not), is it fair to assume that Obama and other pro-welfare-state liberals would not countenance eliminating -- or even significantly curtailing -- federal education spending?
I think it is fair.
According to the Treasury, "Education Department programs" cost the federal government $251.9 billion in fiscal 2010. If you subtract this $251.9 billion from the remaining $101.6 billion in tax revenue, you end up with a deficit of $150.3 billion.