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Federal government balanced its books in December

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The federal government came within a whisker of running a budget surplus in December, according to a preliminary estimate Tuesday that underscored some good news for the federal budget.

The Congressional Budget Office said the government took in about $270 billion in revenue and spent about that amount. Accounting for shifts in the timing of payments, the deficit would have been $17 billion — which is still the best in five years.

"That small deficit is the most favorable budgetary outcome in the month of December since 2007, when the Treasury recorded a surplus," CBO said in a brief report.

Final numbers on December are due from the Treasury Department later this week. The month-to-month reports show trends in federal finances.

Fiscal 2013 began Oct. 1 and through the first three months the government has notched a $293 billion deficit, which is also better than the previous year's total.

Tax revenue is up dramatically, while spending was also up — though adjusting for timing of payments it would have been about the same as the previous year.

Spending on all three major entitlement programs and interest payments on the federal debt were up anywhere from 5 percent to 8 percent, while discretionary spending, which was limited by last year's debt agreement, was down.

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