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U.S. runs April deficit for first time since '83

The government normally runs surpluses in April as Treasury's coffers swell with people paying their annual tax bills by the April 15 deadline.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The federal government ran a deficit in April for the first time in 26 years, pushing the red ink so far this budget year to a record $802.3 billion.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday the deficit for April was $20.9 billion, a sharp contrast from the surplus of $159.3 billion in the same month last year. It also was slightly more than the $20 billion deficit economists had expected.

For the budget year that began Oct. 1, the imbalance totals $802.3 billion, keeping the country on track to register the first $1 trillion annual deficit in U.S. history. And the Obama administration made an accounting change on bailout payments or the deficit already would have been at nearly $1 trillion.

Bailout, benefits to blame
The administration on Monday raised its deficit estimate for the year to $1.84 trillion, from the $1.75 trillion it estimated less than two months ago.

The government normally runs surpluses in April as Treasury's coffers swell with people paying their annual tax bills by the April 15 deadline. But the deficit is being driven higher by the billions of dollars being spent to rescue the financial system from its worst crisis since the 1930s and deal with the worst recession in decades.

The recession also has boosted government outlays for benefit programs like unemployment insurance and food stamps while slashing tax revenues.

The administration made revisions to the deficits reported from October through March to reflect a change in how it was accounting for the bailout payments. The Bush administration recorded each payment to a bank or auto company getting bailout support on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

However, the Obama administration said it was changing the accounting process to a "net present value" basis, which means it assumes that the government is getting an asset when it provides loans to the banks and auto companies. Based on the new accounting method, the size of the deficit from October through March fell about $175 billion.

Through the first seven months of this budget year, the government has collected $1.26 trillion in receipts, a drop of 18.9 percent from a year ago. Outlays totaled $2.058 trillion, a record for the first seven months of a budget year and up 20.9 percent from a year ago.

The deficit of $802.3 billion compares with an imbalance of $153.5 billion through the first seven months of last year.

Economists are worried the government's huge borrowing needs will trigger steep increases in interest rates if domestic and foreign investors start demanding a larger return for holding Treasury debt.

But so far the big increase in the supply of Treasury securities has occurred at a time when interest rates have been pushed lower by heavy demand for what investors see as super-safe investments during a time of high anxiety about other types of debt.

Under the administration's new budget estimates, the $1.84 trillion deficit for this year will be followed by a $1.26 trillion deficit in 2010 and will never dip below $500 billion over the next decade. The administration estimates the deficits from 2010 to 2019 will total $7.1 trillion.

The current record deficit was the $454.8 billion imbalance recorded last year.