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U.S. in red for 14th straight month

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNNMoney.com senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The U.S. government rang up a deficit of $120.3 billion in November - the 14th straight month it has spent more than it has taken in.

That's well below the $176 billion recorded for October and about $5 billion less than recorded in November of last year.

But the November shortfall, reported Thursday by the Treasury Department, brings the total deficit for the first two months of fiscal year 2010 to $296.7 billion, or about $16 billion more than the deficit accrued in the same period a year ago, when the economy and financial markets were falling apart.

The major reason for the increase in the deficit: Even though spending for the first two months of this fiscal year actually fell roughly $25 billion compared to what it was in the prior year-to-date period, tax revenue fell more -- by $41 billion.

Interest paid on the debt in November was $18 billion - or 7% of federal outlays for the month.

For the full fiscal year 2010, the Treasury is estimating the annual deficit will reach $1.502 trillion, or just slightly more than the $1.42 trillion rung up in fiscal year 2009.

Economists and deficit hawks worry less about the near-term deficits accrued since they're the direct result of efforts to combat an economic meltdown. Of greater concern to them is the total debt accumulation, which is building rapidly and could top $20 trillion within 10 years under current policy.

And in the immediate term, lawmakers are going to face a tough vote on raising the debt ceiling - which is the legal limit on the amount of outstanding public debt that the United States is allowed to have.

As of Tuesday, the country's total public debt stood at $12.091 trillion, only $13 billion below the $12.104 trillion statutory debt limit.

It is expected that the debt ceiling will be breached by Dec. 31.

In the meantime, some groups of lawmakers in both the House and Senate are pushing for a fiscal commission made up of a small number of lawmakers to propose ways to curb the country's spending trajectory, which threatens to overrun the federal budget in the coming two decades.

Supporters say the value of the commission is that it would protect the already difficult process of putting the country's fiscal house in order from the negative effects of partisanship in Congress - regardless of which party is in power.

Under the commission proposal, lawmakers would only get to vote up or down on the commission's recommendations, without amending them or filibustering.

Not everyone's a fan.

Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., is one of the leading lawmakers staunchly opposed to the idea.

"Why stop there if Congress is going to outsource its core fiscal responsibilities? Why not cede to this commission all the legislation in the next Congress? What is to stop them from inserting any and all business of the next Congress into the Commission's one, not amendable omnibus vehicle?" Baucus said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. To top of page

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