Federal Budget Deficit Narrows With Record December Surplus

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The U.S. Treasury reported on Monday that the federal government actually managed to run a budget surplus in December. Total outlays fell 15 percent on the month to $230 billion, while receipts increased 5 percent to $283.2 billion, yielding a surplus of $53.2 billion for the month, the highest ever recorded for December.

This year to date, total outlays are down 7.7 percent at $838.2 billion, and receipts are up 7.9 percent, yielding a cumulative deficit of $173.6 billion, down 40.8 percent compared to the same period last year (keep in mind that the government starts its fiscal year in October).

Like a lot of the news coming from Washington recently, the announcement is good but not great. Part of December’s surplus can be attributed to an acceleration of some outlays for military active duty and retirement, veterans’ benefits, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicare payments to health maintenance organizations and prescription drug plans. These payments were due on January 1 but were bumped to the end of December due to the New Year’s holiday.

December receipts were also buoyed by a $40 billion windfall from Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, which together took about $187.5 billion in aid from the government since 2008, when they were taken into conservatorship.

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