The Washington Times - February 7, 2011, 02:40PM

After years of major increases, federal spending has held fairly steady in the first four months of fiscal 2011, with a $10 billion drop in unemployment claims and expiring bailout spending helping keep the bottom line in check.

Still, the government ran a $53 billion deficit in January — a record 28th consecutive month it has been in the red — and has racked up $424 billion in deficits from October through January, the Congressional Budget Office reported Monday in its monthly estimates of the government’s finances.

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CBO said a slightly improving economy has boosted tax receipts by about 10 percent, though it warned that the new payroll tax cut Congress and President Obama agreed to at the end of last year will cut into revenues the rest of the year.

The bright spot was that overall spending has stabilized, growing just 1 percent this year when adjusted for payments shifted because of holidays or weekends.

“The slow rate of growth occurred in part because expenditures for unemployment benefits decreased by $10 billion (or 18 percent), the result of fewer claims and lower average benefits,” CBO said.

The nonpartisan scorekeeper for Congress also said payouts to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac dropped, and Medicare spending has grown only 1 percent so far this year.

CBO’s report is an estimate. Official Treasury Department statements are due out later this week.