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Budget Deficit Hits Record $438 Billion

The federal budget deficit hit a new record in the just-completed 2008 budget year under the latest estimates from the Congressional Budget Office.

The record $438 billion shortfall for the budget year that ended last week is up from $162 billion posted last year. The previous record of $413 billion was posted in 2004.

CBO said Tuesday that with the economy in a slump, revenues dropped by almost 2 percent. Corporate income receipts dropped by $65 billion, or nearly 18 percent. At the same time, individual income tax revenues declined by 1.6 percent.

The deficit is virtually certain to balloon even higher next year as the government sorts out the financial crisis and taps a $700 billion Treasury fund to buy toxic mortgage-related securities.

The next president is likely to have to scale back campaign pledges as he inherits a likely deficit for 2009 exceeding $500 billion. That was one of the points raised in Tuesday's presidential debate. Previous to that, neither GOP standard-bearer John McCain nor Democratic nominee Barack has given much detail regarding what promises they won't be able to keep.

The latest figures for 2008 are somewhat of a surprise, registering more than $30 billion more than CBO's update issued just last month and almost $50 billion higher than what the White House predicted in July.

The numbers also amplify President Bush's poor record on the deficit. Virtually every administration promise on the deficit has failed to come to pass.

Bush inherited a budget seen as producing endless huge surpluses after four straight years in positive territory. That stretch of surpluses represented a period when the country's finances had been bolstered by a 10-year period of uninterrupted economic growth, the longest expansion in U.S. history.

Those predictions were based on faulty models. Also, a recession in March 2001 and government spending to fight the war on terrorism helped push the deficit to its previous record in 2004.

Major rounds of tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 have also contributed to the deficit and renewing them - and their $200 billion-plus annual cost - when they expire at the end of 2010 would make it extremely difficult to balance the budget anytime soon.

A later promise to cut the deficit in half by the time Bush leaves office is in tatters, and virtually no one takes seriously his proposed path to a balanced budget by 2012.

The deficit numbers for 2008 represent about 3 percent of the size of the economy, which is the measure economists consider the most relevant. By that measure, the deficit is smaller than the deficits of the 1980s and early 1990s that led Congress and earlier administrations to cobble together politically painful deficit-reduction packages.

"Our children and grandchildren will be paying the price for years to come as they shoulder this growing burden of debt," said House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt Jr., D-S.C.

The Treasury Department is expected to release the official deficit tally by midmonth.

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