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‘05 federal red ink may set record

White House projects a deficit of $427 billion

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WASHINGTON — The White House will project that this year's federal deficit will hit $427 billion, a senior administration official said Tuesday, a record amount partly driven by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The official, among three who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the estimate was a conservative one that assumed some higher spending than other analysts use. Last February, the White House projected that the 2004 shortfall would hit $521 billion, only to see it come in at $412 billion.

The official said the figure represented progress because it would be smaller than last year's record $412 billion shortfall when compared to the size of the growing U.S. economy. That ratio is a key measure of the deficit's potency.

"Our projections will show we remain on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009," one of President Bush's budget goals, the official told reporters.

Even so, the number was among a blizzard of figures released Tuesday that illustrated how federal deficits remain a problem that Bush and Congress must reckon with.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that thanks to tax cuts and hurricane aid passed since its last calculations in September, the 10-year deficit had worsened since then by $503 billion, not counting war expenditures.

The budget office projected $855 billion in shortfalls for the decade ending in 2015. The office estimated that deficits would gradually fade into slight surpluses by 2012 — but not many were taking that forecast at face value.

The congressional analysts projected that this year's deficit would hit $368 billion — which would be the third highest ever — excluding war costs. Adding expenditures for Iraq and Afghanistan operations would push this year's red ink to about $400 billion, said Congress' nonpartisan budget analyst.

Underscoring budget pressures hounding lawmakers, senior administration officials invited reporters to the White House to outline their upcoming request for an additional $80 billion, or slightly more, to help pay this year's costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I am grateful that Congress in a strong bipartisan fashion has consistently voted to support our troops, and I urge it to do so again," Bush said in a written statement.

There is little doubt lawmakers will follow Bush's lead, as they have repeatedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The latest proposal would bring war spending so far to about $308 billion, including $25 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Research Service, which provides reports to lawmakers.

Bush plans to send his 2006 budget to Congress on Feb. 7. It will not include a request for more war funds for that year, the officials said, saving that request for later.

Tuesday's forecast by the Congressional Budget Office was widely awaited at the start of a year when Bush and Republicans are likely to propose tight spending restraints — and battle Democrats and some GOP lawmakers over those plans.