WASHINGTON – The Treasury Department said Friday that the budget deficit increased by $192.3 billion in March, and is near $1 trillion just halfway through the budget year, as costs of the financial bailout and recession mount.
Last month's deficit, a record for March, was significantly higher than the $150 billion that economists expected.
The deficit already totals $956.8 billion for the first six months of the budget year, also a record for that period. The Obama administration projects the deficit for the entire year will hit $1.75 trillion.
A deficit at that level would nearly quadruple the previous annual record of $454.8 billion set last year. The March deficit was nearly four times the size of the imbalance in the same month last year.
Nearly $300 billion provided to the nation's banks and other companies to cope with the most severe financial crisis in seven decades has pushed government spending higher.
The Treasury report said that through the end of March, $293.4 billion had been provided to support companies through the $700 billion bailout fund Congress passed last October. That support has been provided primarily to banks, although insurance giant American International Group Inc. and auto companies General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC also have received assistance.
Besides the bailout fund, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received $46 billion last month, bringing the total assistance provided to the mortgage finance companies to $59.8 billion since October. The government took control of both last September after they had suffered billions of dollars in losses on mortgage loans.
Through the first six months of the budget year that began Oct. 1, tax revenues have totaled $989.8 billion, down 13.6 percent from the year-ago period. The government's receipts have been reduced sharply by the recession, which is shaping up to be the longest of the post World War II period. The downturn began in December 2007.
Government outlays totaled $1.95 trillion through March, 33.4 percent higher than the year-ago period. Besides higher payments for the financial rescue, the government is paying more in such areas as unemployment benefits and food stamps.
The Treasury report showed benefit payments from the unemployment trust fund totaled $44.6 billion so far this budget year, up from $19.4 billion last year.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated last month that President Barack Obama's budget proposals would produce $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next decade, a figure $2.3 trillion higher than estimates made in February in the administration's first budget proposal.
The CBO review projected Obama's budget would generate deficits averaging almost $1 trillion annually over the decade ending in 2019.
The administration said it remained confident its forecasts for declining deficits over that same period could be achieved. But private economists have faulted those estimates for relying on economic assumptions they believe are too optimistic.
The administration projects that after hitting $1.75 trillion this year, the gap between spending and tax revenues will dip to $1.17 trillion in 2010, and plunge to $533 billion in 2013. If accurate, that would fulfill Obama's pledge to cut the deficit he inherited in half by the end of his current term in office.
Some economists have expressed concerns that the massive deficits being forecast could push interest rates up sharply, especially if foreign investors worry about the size of the U.S. deficit projections.
Lawrence Summers, director of Obama's National Economic Council, said Thursday there have been no indications that investors are growing worried about the size of the deficits. On the contrary, he said yields on Treasury securities have been pushed lower by increased demand from investors seeking to hold Treasury bonds as a safe haven in uncertain economic times.
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