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Federal budget deficit leaps 77 percent so far for fiscal 2019

  • The U.S. budget gap climbed to $310.3 billion from October to January, up from $175.7 the previous year
  • Spending on Social Security, defense and interest payments was higher
  • Tax revenues were lower following the new tax cuts, with corporate payments down 23 percent

The federal government recorded a budget surplus in January. But so far for this fiscal year starting Oct. 1, the total deficit is 77 percent higher than it was for the same period a year ago.

The Treasury Department said Tuesday the deficit for the first four months of fiscal 2019 totaled $310.3 billion. That's up from $175.7 billion in the same period a year ago — and that includes the January surplus of $8.7 billion.

The higher deficit reflected greater spending in areas such as Social Security, defense and interest payments on the national debt. Meanwhile, the government collected less in taxes from individuals and corporations, reflecting the impact of the $1.5 trillion tax cut President Donald Trump pushed through Congress in late 2017.

Individual income taxes withheld from paychecks totaled $818 billion for the October-January period, down 3 percent from the same period last year. Corporate income taxes came to $73 billion over the four-month period, down 23 percent.

Some of America's biggest corporations likely paid little to no income tax in 2018

Revenue, however, is up as tariffs — border taxes collected on imports — totaled $25 billion in the October-January period, up 91 percent from a year ago. This reflects the higher tariffs the Trump administration has imposed on China and other nations in various trade disputes.

These border taxes aren't paid by the countries where the goods are being produced but rather by the U.S. companies importing the products into the U.S. Those costs are generally passed on to American consumers.

The $8.7 billion surplus in January was down from a larger $49.2 billion surplus in January 2018. January, a month when both individuals and corporations make tax payments, has run surpluses in 26 of the past 65 years.

Deficits are heading to $1 trillion

The Congressional Budget Office is projecting that this year's deficit will hit $897 billion, up 15.1 percent from the $779 billion deficit recorded last year. In the CBO's projections for the next decade, it forecasts that the deficit will once again top $1 trillion annually beginning in 2022 and will never fall below $1 trillion over the rest of the forecast period.

From October through January, federal government revenues totaled $1.11 trillion, down 1.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Government spending was $1.15 trillion, up 8.8 percent.

On March 2, the government's debt limit, which had been suspended, went back into effect at the current $22 trillion level of debt. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has begun taking actions, such as halting investments in civil service pension funds, to keep from exceeding the debt ceiling.

The CBO has estimated these various maneuvers will keep the government operating without threatening a devastating default on the government debt until probably September.