(Adds details on deficit estimates, spending plans)
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, April 10 The United States posted a
record $956.8 billion budget deficit for the first half of
fiscal 2009, more than triple the year-ago shortfall, as
spending on financial and economic rescue programs ramped up,
the Treasury Department said on Friday.
For March, the government recorded a deficit of $192.27
billion, a record for the month and nearly four times the
year-ago gap of $48.21 billion.
March budget outlays ballooned to $321.23 billion,
including $46 billion spent to inject capital into
government-controlled housing finance companies Fannie Mae
FNM.N and Freddie Mac FRE.N and $10.6 billion for federally
subsidized unemployment benefits. The total outlays compared
with $227.02 billion for March 2008.
The March outlays would have been even larger, but the
federal government shifted about $15 billion of benefit
payments into February because March 1 was a Sunday.
March receipts fell sharply as a rapidly deteriorating
economy dried up tax revenue from individuals and businesses.
Receipts for the month fell 28 percent to $128.96 billion from
$178.82 billion a year earlier.
In addition to the capital support for Fannie and Freddie,
the government purchased $17.38 billion of mortgage-backed
securities from government-sponsored enterprises, marking a
total of $119.2 billion for the first half of fiscal 2009,
which started on October 1.
The nearly $1 trillion deficit in the first half of the
fiscal year is consistent with some private forecasts that the
fiscal 2009 shortfall will be in the $1.6 trillion to $2
trillion range, dwarfing the 2008 record of $454.8 billion.
The government is now increasing spending on infrastructure
and tax cuts under the Obama administration's $787 billion
economic stimulus plan. It is also spending more on housing
relief that uses financial bailout funds.
It has not yet determined whether to ask Congress for
additional funds to strengthen the financial sector, although
Obama's 2010 budget plan contains a "placeholder" that
envisions up to $750 billion of asset purchases from financial
The government has now run deficits in each of the past six
months -- the first time that has occurred since the October
2003 through March 2004 period, when tax cuts reduced revenue
and Iraq war spending increased.
(Editing by Neil Stempleman and Steve Orlofsky)