US deficit balloons to highest level since 2012

The federal government is running up its credit bill again. The deficit rose to $779 billion in fiscal year 2018, up 17% from last year, according to final figures released Monday by the Treasury Department. That’s the largest number since 2012, when the country was still spending massively to stimulate an economy struggling to recover.

Government receipts were flat this year from last year. Corporate tax collections fell $76 billion, or 22%. That drop was more than offset by increased revenues from individual and self-employment taxes. The fiscal year ended September 30.

Spending rose 3% over the previous year, fueled in part by increases to the defense budget agreed upon in September 2017 as part of a deal between Republicans and Democrats to head off a government shutdown. Social Security and interest on the federal debt also contributed to the increase.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the numbers underscored a need to cut spending.

“The president is very much aware of the realities presented by our national debt,” Mulvaney said in a statement. “America’s booming economy will create increased government revenues — an important step toward long-term fiscal sustainability. But this fiscal picture is a blunt warning to Congress of the dire consequences of irresponsible and unnecessary spending.”

“People are going to want to say the deficit is because of the tax cuts. That’s not the real story,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said. “The real story is we made a significant investment in the military which is very, very important, and to get that done we had to increase non-military spending.”

The deficit figure is in line with what the Congressional Budget Office, the official government scorekeeper of federal fiscal policy, projected earlier this month. In June, the CBO projected that the deficit would rise to 9.5% of GDP in 2018.

As interest rates rise, servicing that ballooning debt could pose challenging. Treasury spent $522 billion last year paying interest, up 14% from the year before. That’s more than Medicaid costs annually.

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