The independent scorekeeper of the nation's debt announced Tuesday that for the fourth straight year the federal budget will run a deficit of at least $1 trillion, injecting deficit politics into a swiftly approaching election and exposing President Obama to fresh attacks over his fiscal stewardship.
The new calculations from the Congressional Budget Office show that the government will amass a $1.1 trillion deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 -- and could add hundreds of billions of additional debt in coming years assuming that Bush-era tax cuts are extended as most expect.
In response to the damning report, the White House argued that the fiscal situation reflects an economy still mired in a recession and the massive deficit Obama inherited from two unpaid wars, an expanded prescription drug plan and widespread tax cuts, all of which were initiated by his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Yet, some analysts say blaming Bush may not work now that Obama has been in office for more than three years.
"He'll absorb the brunt of the blame," former CBO Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin said of Obama. "Even without the Bush-tax cuts, the deficit explodes. We need entitlement reform. This is four straight years. This happened under his watch."
Federal spending on health care, expected to double from $847 million in 2012 to $1.8 trillion in 2022, is a driving force behind the shortfall, and conservatives contend that will be even worse as Obama's health care reforms kick in.
Perhaps even more damaging to Obama, the CBO projects little economic growth by the time voters head to the polls in November. Unemployment is expected to remain about 9 percent by year's end, up from previous projections of 8.5 percent.
No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has won re-election amid such stubbornly high joblessness. And while the budget deficit remains a top concern of many voters, most are more focused on the economy and jobs, analysts said.
"The story is that [Obama] hasn't done enough to address the economic downturn," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "I think he has done a horrible job losing control of the debate since the beginning. Instead of going for a bigger stimulus, he pivoted to the deficit. That was close to crazy."
Democrats and Republicans alike pounced on the CBO report to demand that the other party put aside political ideology in the name of brokering a resolution -- a prospect few political observers anticipate amid an already-fiery election season.
"The CBO's latest alarm bell couldn't be more ominous," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. "The CBO's report today confirms that it is past time for serious leaders to put aside politics and start forging solutions."
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D, countered that the CBO figures should motivate Republicans to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits that expire at the end of February.
Obama will lay down his marker in the deficit debate in two weeks when he releases his budget. Based on his State of the Union address, it's expected to call for higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans and heightened investments in education, manufacturing and transportation projects to jump-start the economy.