- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2018

The federal fiscal picture took a giant step backward in February, notching a one-month deficit of more than $200 billion — the sort of benchmark posted during the worst days of the Obama administration.

Treasury Department numbers released Monday showed the government spent $370.9 billion last month, but collected just $155.6 billion in revenue, leaving a $215.2 billion deficit.

It’s the biggest shortfall since February 2012, when the government was still doling out stimulus cash while trying to dig out of the Wall Street collapse-fueled Great Recession.

Analysts caution against reading too much into a single month’s numbers because shifts in payments across weekends can affect totals, but February’s deficit appears to reflect surges in federal spending — and that’s even before the budget-busting deal reached by Republicans and Democrats in January kicks in.

Social Security, Medicare, disaster relief and Pentagon spending drove the increases last month, each rising 5 percent or more, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Net interest on the accumulated debt also spiked 8 percent.

The CBO is scheduled to release its next major budget evaluation early next month, but analysts are expecting a grim picture to emerge after December’s tax cuts and January’s spending deal, both of which are likely to plunge the government deeper into debt.

The January budget deal will boost spending by about $300 billion in 2018 and 2019, and set the stage for similar increases years into the future. The tax cut law, meanwhile, is projected to reduce government revenue over the next decade by $1.5 trillion.

The CBO said lower withholdings from Americans’ paychecks kicked in last month, helping depress the government’s take.

“Withholding of individual income and payroll taxes fell by $3 billion (or 2 percent), further reducing receipts,” the budget agency said. “Increases in wages and salaries were more than offset by a decline in the share of wages withheld for taxes, CBO estimates, reflecting the new withholding tables issued in January by the IRS.”

Last month’s deficit was worse than all other months on record with the exception of February 2012, which ran $231.7 billion in the red; February 2011, which saw a $222.5 billion deficit; and Feb. 2010, with a $220.9 billion shortfall.

Before last month, the worst month during the Trump administration had been February 2017, with a $192 billion hole.

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