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WASHINGTON – The U.S. government is running a deficit that is 23.6 percent lower than in the same period a year ago through the first five months of this budget year, another sign of improvement in the nation’s finances.

In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said Thursday that the deficit for February totaled $193.5 billion, the largest monthly imbalance in a year. The government traditionally runs large deficits in February, a month when it is sending out tax refund payments.

For the period from October through February, the deficit totals $377.4 billion, down from $493.95 billion a year ago.

Last week, President Obama sent Congress a new budget which projects the deficit will fall to $649 billion this year, down from a $680 billion deficit last year.

The Congressional Budget Office is forecasting an even lower deficit this year of $514 billion. Both the administration and the CBO expect the deficit to improve as an improving economy boosts tax revenues and lowers spending on such support programs as unemployment benefits.

The deficit is also being trimmed by tighter spending restraints imposed in response to four straight years in which the deficit soared above $1 trillion annually.

Through the first five months of this budget year, which begins on Oct. 1, government receipts totaled $1.1 trillion, 9.3 percent higher than the same period a year ago. Outlays totaled $1.48 trillion, 1.5 percent lower than a year ago.

The CBO is forecasting that the deficit will fall further to $478 billion in 2015. But it sees deficits rising after that, climbing above $1 trillion again in 2022 and 2023.