The good news is that the federal deficit should be smaller this year.
That is, unless it’s bigger.
Ah, accounting can be a confusing game, and when you’re talking billions and billions of dollars, it’s sometimes indecipherable.
Take October, the first month of the federal fiscal year. The Treasury Department reported government revenues at an all-time high — and a $55.6 billion deficit that was up 12.6 percent from October 2006.
Revenues hit $178.2 billion, a figure that is up 6.3 percent from October 2006. But government spending grew at an even faster clip of 7.7 percent to $233.7 billion — also a record for October.
Still, the Congressional Budget Office predicts the spending imbalance when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, 2008, will be in the neighborhood of $155 billion, which would be about $7 billion less than last year’s deficit, which, believe it or not, was a five-year record low.
Not everyone is sold on that idea, though. While most expect the deficit to rise again in 2009, some economists think it’s already back on the way up and could hit $200 billion this year.
The Bush administration’s take, as you might expect, is a half-full one that revenue is growing and the country is on its way to a balanced budget by 2012. Democrats, not surprisingly, have chosen the half-empty course, noting that a low dollar, slumping housing, record-high oil prices and baby boomers about to retire and hit the Social Security system will all combine to offset slowing revenue growth.
Whether either position is based on anything other than posturing for the 2008 presidential race is anybody’s guess. But the whole numbers game is a sad reminder that Americans have gone from expecting their government to live within its means to just hoping that it doesn’t use up the world’s supply of red ink.
The Albany Herald
Nov. 15, 2007