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December deficit nearly doubles

By Blake Ellis, contributing writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The U.S. government posted a deficit of $91.9 billion in December, nearly double the shortfall of a year earlier and marking the government's 15th straight month in the red, the Treasury Department reported Wednesday.

The shortfall brings the total deficit for the first quarter of fiscal year 2010 to $388.5 billion, up from $332 billion during the same period last year.

It was the second consecutive December the government spent more than it took in. In December 2008, the deficit was $51.8 billion.

While December's deficit was less than the $120.3 billion in November, that's no reason to celebrate. The government typically rings up a surplus in December as year-end bonuses boost high individual withholding and as companies make quarterly income tax payments.

The deficit remained high in the first three months of the fiscal year because while spending was down by $3.6 billion from the same period last year, tax revenue fell even more, dropping by $59.7 billion as individual income and payroll taxes declined.

Interest paid on the debt in December was $104.6 billion -- 34% of federal outlays for the month.

"No surprises, the government obviously continues to run a very large deficit," said Gus Faucher, director of macro economics at Moody's Economy.com. "But that's necessary as a response to the recession and the financial crisis."

The Treasury estimates the annual deficit will climb to $1.502 trillion for the full fiscal year 2010, up from $1.42 trillion in 2009.

Debt ceiling: For the long term, many economists are less concerned about monthly and annual deficits, focusing instead on the enormous accumulation of national debt and its rapid upward trend.

"We want to have a big deficit now because that's helping to stimulate the economy, said Faucher. "The concern is about the longer run."

That's especially true after Congress raised the debt ceiling again. The new limit for the amount of debt the Treasury is allowed to have, passed in the last days of 2009, was set at $12.394 trillion, up $290 billion from the previous level of $12.104 trillion. Depending on the state of the economy, this should provide the government relief until mid-February.

As of Monday, the country's total public debt was $12.285 trillion, $109 billion below the debt limit. To top of page

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