Lori Montgomery and Dan Eggen
Saturday, Oct 18, 2008
Congressional leaders and both presidential candidates are proposing billions of dollars in tax breaks and other measures to stoke economic growth, a surge in spending that could send the federal deficit soaring toward $1 trillion this year, creating the deepest well of red ink since the end of World War II.
The government already has embarked on an unprecedented spending spree to halt the implosion of the U.S. financial system and is borrowing money at levels that some economists fear could undermine the nation’s economic security for years to come. Congress could consider additional spending as soon as next month, potentially digging the nation’s hole even deeper.
“We’re going to make Ronald Reagan look like a piker in terms of deficit creation, I think,” said Rudolph Penner, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office during the Reagan administration.
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The numbers are adding up fast. Since President Bush signed an economic stimulus package in February, authorizing billions of dollars in rebates for American taxpayers, the government has pledged as much as $1.5 trillion to prop up the teetering economy. It has approved new mortgages for struggling homeowners, salvage operations for faltering financial institutions and a historic $700 billion bailout plan to pump money into banks paralyzed by the financial crisis.
The Treasury Department so far has borrowed nearly $500 billion from pension plans, foreign governments and other investors to replenish the coffers of the Federal Reserve. Since the end of August, the national debt has jumped from $9.6 trillion to $10.3 trillion, with borrowing for the bank bailout yet to come.
Meanwhile, the budget deficit — the annual difference between government spending and tax collections — has risen rapidly. It jumped from $162 billion last year to $455 billion in the fiscal year that ended in September, largely because of the cost of the stimulus package, as well as slowing tax revenues and rising expenses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The budget picture looking forward is even bleaker. While the deficit is projected to be about $550 billion for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, budget analysts have yet to figure in the effects of a recession, which could easily tack on another $100 billion. They also have not included the first $250 billion being spent on the bailout plan, which the White House budget office said this week must be added, even though much if not all of the money is eventually expected to be returned to the Treasury.
This article was posted: Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 4:50 am