Soaring deficit may defy forecasts
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Stagnant unemployment, shrinking tax revenue and a struggling economy threaten to quadruple the size of last year's federal budget deficit, raising more questions about the timing of costly proposals to overhaul health care.
As the White House and Congressional Budget Office (CBO) prepare to release new deficit estimates this month, several economists say the news is likely to be as bad as or worse than forecasts.
"This is going to be a very depressing outlook," predicts former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top adviser to Republican John McCain in last year's presidential election. "They have just a nightmare in terms of these health care bills, which do nothing but make things worse."
A fiscal year 2009 deficit of $1.8 trillion was anticipated by the White House, $1.7 trillion by Congress. Reaching that level would produce a deficit four times last year's $459 billion deficit, just as Congress is considering health care overhaul plans that could cost $1 trillion over 10 years.
Lawmakers are struggling to pay for a plan with a mix of tax increases on upper-income people and Medicare spending reductions aimed at doctors, hospitals, drugmakers and insurers. Some town-hall forums across the U.S. this month have been disrupted by protests for and against proposals.