updated 4/12/2006 6:03:04 PM ET 2006-04-12T22:03:04

Government spending hit an all-time high for a single month in March, pushing the budget deficit up significantly from the red-ink level of a year ago.

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In its monthly accounting of the government’s books, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday that federal spending totaled $250 billion last month, up 13.7 percent from March 2005.

Government receipts also were up, rising 10.6 percent from a year ago, to $164.6 billion. That left a deficit for the month of $85.5 billion, a record imbalance for March.

Treasury Department officials said that half of the growth in outlays for March represented a $15 billion shift in payments for certain government benefit programs, including Medicare, into March rather than April. The benefit payments were made early because April 1 fell on a Saturday.

The March outlay record of $250 billion surpassed the old mark of $232 billion set in February.

Even though the deficit was a record for March, it was below the all-time monthly high of $119.2 billion, which was set in February.

So far through the first six months of this budget year, which began in October, the deficit totals $303 billion, an increase of 2.8 percent over the deficit in the first six months of the 2005 budget year.

The administration is forecasting that the deficit for this budget year, which will end Sept. 30, will hit a record $423 billion, surpassing the old mark in dollar terms of $413 billion set in 2004. The administration says the costs of the war in Iraq and reconstruction spending from the Gulf Coast hurricanes will drive the deficit higher.

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting that the deficit will total $371 billion this year, and many private forecasters believe the red ink will be even lower, noting that the healthy economy has pushed revenues up sharply.

Through the first six months of this budget year, revenues have totaled $1.04 trillion, up 10.5 percent from the same period a year ago.

Spending during this six-month period totals $1.34 trillion, up 8.7 percent from the same period in 2005.

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