WASHINGTON - -The federal deficit has topped $1 trillion for the first time ever and could grow to nearly $2 trillion by this fall, intensifying fears about higher interest rates, inflation and the strength of the dollar.
The deficit has been widened by the huge sum the government has spent to ease the recession, combined with a sharp decline in tax revenues. The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also is a major factor.
The soaring deficit is making Chinese and other foreign buyers of U.S. debt nervous, which could make them reluctant lenders down the road. It could also force the Treasury Department to pay higher interest rates to make U.S. debt attractive longer-term.
"These are mind-boggling numbers," said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at the Smith School of Business at California State University. "Our foreign investors from China and elsewhere are starting to have concerns about not only the value of the dollar but how safe their investments will be in the long run."
The administration forecasts that the deficit for the entire fiscal year will hit $1.84 trillion in October.