This sentence is a pithy summary of the centrist conventional wisdom about taxes, spending, debt, and health care:
"The political impasse facing the U.S. arises from one simple reality: Americans want an increasing government contribution to health care, but don't want to pay for it."
That's James Hamilton, an economic professor at the University of California, San Diego, at his excellent Econbrowser blog. It's an utterly reasonable-sounding judgment that can lead you to the wrong conclusion. Health care isn't just a government spending problem. It's an everybody's-spending problem.
First, some basic facts about government spending on health care. Federal medical spending as a share of GDP has increased from about 1 percent of GDP in 1950 to almost 9 percent of the economy today.
Meanwhile, tax revenues have clung stubbornly to their long-run 19 percent average...
... and gross government debt (which is slightly different from publicly held debt) has retraced the path it took during WWII to 100 percent of GDP.
So, this creates the illusion that Americans are clamoring for more health-care spending from the government while steadfastly refusing to pay for it.
Public polling reveals a more complicated picture: Americans want affordable health care, above all, and are ambivalent or skeptical about both the current system and government efforts to change it. Overall public support for universal health care has declined to less than 50 percent in the last decade, and it has plummeted since 2007 by 20 percentage points. Support for Obamacare has struggled to rise above 50%. For the last 25 years, Americans have often said that the two most urgent health care issues have been access and cost.