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Friday, January 13, 2006

Playing Semantic Games 

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This is the third straight year in which the White House has summoned reporters well ahead of the official budget release to project a higher-than-anticipated deficit. In the past two years, when final deficit figures have come in at record or near-record levels, White House officials have boasted that they had made progress, since the final numbers were below estimates.

"This administration has a history of overestimating the deficit early in the year, lowering expectations, then taking credit when it comes in below forecast," said Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget expert at Financial Dynamics Business Communications. "It's not just a history. It's almost an obsession."

Indeed, the dire new forecast came the same day that Treasury Department officials were touting a very different picture: The federal government posted the first budget surplus for December in three years, buoyed by a rush of corporate tax payments that more than offset record spending. On Jan. 6, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the deficit for the first three months of the fiscal year was about $119 billion, almost exactly where it stood for the first quarter of fiscal 2005.


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