The U.S. budget deficit unexpectedly increased in November, to $172 billion for the month -- pushing the country one step closer to the limit on government borrowing.
The Treasury said Wednesday the deficit last month was $22 billion more than the October mark and up from $137 billion in November 2011.
The numbers paint a gloomy picture of the country’s fiscal health and could complicate already delicate negotiations in Washington over tax rates and spending cuts with a deadline looming to to avert a fiscal crisis.
The Treasury said the unexpired jump was the result of a calendar quirk that pulled into November about $33 billion in benefits payments slated for December.
The new number could puts the country on pace to notch its fifth-straight annual deficit over $1 trillion. The government finished the 2012 budget year, which ends Sept. 30, with a deficit of $1.1 trillion.
With the economy and hiring improving a bit, the government is receiving more tax receipts. Overall tax revenue increased 10 percent in the first two months of the budget year to $346 billion. But spending has increased faster, up $87 billion or 16 percent.
The deficit, in simplest terms, is the amount of money the government has to borrow when revenues fall short of expenses. Last year's deficit was lower than the previous year but still painfully high by historical standards.
Obama's presidency has coincided with four straight $1 trillion-plus deficits -- the first in history and a record he had to vigorously defend during his re-election campaign. He had promised in February 2009 to cut the deficit in half by the end of this first term.
This year's deficit is closely tied to what happens with the looming fiscal crisis.
Some economists fear that the $671 billion in higher taxes and spending cuts that would start January would, if left in place, push the economy into a recession.
The president and congressional Republicans have traded proposals for an alternative budget deal. Obama has called for $1.4 trillion in new revenue over 10 years, partly by raising taxes on the wealthiest two percent of taxpayers. He has also recommended $400 billion in spending cuts over a decade.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, has offered $800 billion in new revenue and is calling for $1.2 trillion in spending cuts.
House Republicans want to raise the revenue by closing loopholes rather than raising tax rates, as Obama is demanding.
The government has run annual deficits for more than a decade and hit a record $1.41 trillion in 2009, Obama's first year in office. That was largely because of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Tax revenue plummeted during the downturn, while the government spent more on stimulus programs.
The budget gaps in 2010 and 2011 were slightly lower than the 2009 deficit as a gradually strengthening economy generated more tax revenue.
President George W. Bush also ran annual deficits through most of his two terms in office after he won approval for broad tax cuts and launched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The last time the government ran an annual surplus was in 2001.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.