October budget deficit hits record of $237.2B

By: AP
By: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The federal government began the new budget year with a record deficit of $237.2 billion, reflecting the billions of dollars the government has started to pay out to rescue the financial system.

The Treasury Department said Thursday that the deficit for the first month in the new budget year was the highest monthly imbalance on record. It was far bigger than analysts expected, over four times larger than the October 2007 deficit of $56.8 billion, and more than half the total for all of last year.

The big surge reflected the government spending $115 billion to buy stock in the nation's largest banks. Those were the first payments made from the $700 billion government rescue program passed by Congress to deal with the most severe financial crisis to hit the country since the 1930s.

The October deficit began a period in which economists are forecasting the red ink for the entire year could well hit $1 trillion, reflecting what many expect to be a severe recession, which will depress tax revenue, and the heavy costs of the financial system bailout.

President-elect Barack Obama has said that getting the economy back on track will be his top priority and has promised to work with Congress to pass a second stimulus program.

The $237.2 billion deficit for October included total government spending of $402 billion, a record in terms of outlays.

The spending figure included $115 billion paid to some of the country's largest banks to buy stock, the beginning of a program in which the government will spend $250 billion before the end of the year to take ownership shares in hundreds and potentially thousands of banks. The goal is to bolster banks' balance sheets so that they will resume more normal lending and keep the country from falling into a prolonged recession.

The deficit also was boosted by the government's move to purchase $21.5 billion in mortgage-backed securities, an effort the Bush administration announced when it took control of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in September because of rising losses in that market.

Government receipts in October totaled $164.8 billion, down 7.5 percent from October 2007, reflecting the impact on revenues from the slumping economy.

For the 2008 budget year, which ended on Sept. 30, the deficit totaled a record $454.8 billion, reflecting the impact of the weak economy on revenues and a $168 billion stimulus program which sent stimulus payments to millions of Americans during the spring and early summer.

The Bush administration in July estimated that the deficit for the current budget year could hit $482 billion, but that projection was made before the administration got Congress to pass a $700 billion rescue program on Oct. 3.

(This version CORRECTS reference to 2008 budget year, which ended on Sept. 30)

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