Feds run deficit for 38th straight month

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The federal government ran a $139 billion deficit in November, marking the 38th straight month in the red, according to a preliminary estimate the Congressional Budget Office released Wednesday.

Two months into fiscal 2012, which began Oct. 1, revenue from taxes is up 7 percent while spending is down 6 percent — but when adjusted for payments shifted into last year because they otherwise would have been due on a weekend, CBO said spending actually has remained “virtually unchanged.”

That suggests the deals President Obama and Congress struck in April and again over the summer to limit spending are not having much effect in actually reducing outlays.

Interest payments on the debt continue to rise at the fastest rate of any category of spending, jumping 12.4 percent this year. Social Security and Medicare spending were also up.

Meanwhile, defense spending is down nearly 7 percent, driven by lower procurement. And spending on unemployment benefits is down markedly, nearly 26 percent lower at this point than it was last year. Education spending also has declined after the expiration of parts of Mr. Obama’s 2009 stimulus.

Revenues were up in most categories. The chief exception was payroll taxes, where the 2 percent cut Congress and Mr. Obama agree to last year has cut into revenues designated for the Social Security trust fund. The two sides agreed to repay the trust fund from general revenue, but with the country running a deficit, that meant borrowing money to replenish the lost funds.

CBO’s estimates are preliminary. Final figures will be released by the Treasury Department later this month.

The government hasn’t run a surplus since September 2008, just before the Wall Street collapse near the end of the Bush administration. That is by far the longest streak in records dating back to the 1980s. Before the current streak, the government had never gone an entire year without running a surplus in at least one month.

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