The federal government is “a massive insurance conglomerate with a large standing army”

From Ezra Klein’s post at the Wonkblog at the Washington Post, Five charts that will make you feel better about paying your taxes:

The truth is that the federal government, as seen through the budget, is a massive insurance conglomerate with a large standing army. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up almost half of federal spending. Defense is a bit less than as fifth. That’s not to say we’re spending the right amount on those programs. It’s just to sat your money isn’t going to “waste and fraud,” or to a bloated foreign aid budget. It’s going to big, visible and broadly popular programs. That’s why deficit reduction is so hard.

I’ve hit this same point over and over and over again through the years. It really can’t be said enough. There is no way to cut federal spending substantively given the public’s demand the major categories of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and defense.

Klein’s post also notes that federal tax revenue for 2012 is expected to be 15.8 percent of GDP:

Tax revenues are only expected to be 15.8 percent of GDP in 2012. They’ve not been above 16 percent of GDP since 2008. But before 2008, you have to go back to 1950 to find a year when they were below 16 percent of GDP. So taxes really were historically low last year.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s partly attributable to the weak economy, and partly attributable to the huge raft of tax cuts passed to strengthen the economy (the payroll tax cut, the extended Bush tax cuts, the stimulus tax cuts, etc). But the facts are the facts: Taxes were really low in 2012.

In the late 1990s, federal tax revenues topped 20 percent of GDP.