WASHINGTON — The U.S. federal deficit was slightly smaller through the first five months of the budget year than the previous year. Still, the imbalance is on pace to exceed $1 trillion for the fourth straight year, which could be an issue in this year’s presidential election.
The Treasury Department said Monday that the deficit grew by $232 billion in February. That increased the imbalance through the first five months of the budget year to $581 billion, or 9 percent less than the same period in fiscal 2011.
The Obama administration expects the deficit will reach $1.3 trillion when the budget year ends on Sept. 30. That would nearly match last year’s gap. The government ran a record deficit of $1.41 trillion in 2009 and a $1.29 trillion gap in 2010.
The deficit was slightly lower at the start of the year in part because the government took in more taxes from corporations.
And the gap was smaller even after the government paid out more money in February in tax refunds. February is typically a big month for refunds. This year’s payout was 50 percent higher than last year’s, partly because of the leap year.