I’ve been saying the federal government sends out 80 million checks a month, a number I got from the Bipartisan Policy Center. The president says the government sends out 70 million. Alec MacGillis says we’re both wrong:

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.

Obama’s and Geithner’s statements were hyperbolic only in one sense: The vast majority of the payments are now electronic, not checks per se. Of the roughly 80 million payments that the Treasury Department made in June, just 12 million were paper checks, half of them to Social Security recipients who prefer to get their allotment in the mail.

Yikes. That’s a lot of checks — or at least a lot of electronic transfer payments. It’s also impressive to see how many of them are Medicare, Social Security or defense spending. Further evidence, I guess, that the federal government is now an insurance conglomerate protected by a large standing military.