The Treasury Department said Monday it will need to borrow $276 billion in the current quarter as it struggles to manage the government's books pending a decision by Congress to boost the debt limit.
The department's projected borrowing for the October-December period is down sharply from an estimate of $486 billion it made in August.
The improvement reflects the winding down of a program designed to help support the economy that was created at the height of the financial crisis last year. The move will delay the point at which the government will hit the current debt ceiling of $12.1 trillion to give Congress more time to approve an increase.
Congress still will face the need to boost the debt limit by around $1 trillion in a vote that's expected later this month. Some senators say they will not support the action unless it is linked to the creation of a commission that would force Congress and the administration to take credible action to restrain soaring deficits.
The projected market borrowing needs of $276 billion for the current quarter would compare with $393 billion in the July-September period. The latest estimate also projected the government will need to borrow $478 billion in the January-March quarter next year.
All the borrowing needs are well above the levels before the financial crisis struck last year, which prompted Congress to create a $700 billion bailout fund and approve a $787 billion stimulus program.
Those efforts have sent the federal deficit soaring. The imbalance for the 2009 budget year, which ended Sept. 30, hit an all-time high of $1.42 trillion. That's also the largest level as a share of the total economy since the end of World War II.
The administration is projecting that deficits over the next decade will total $9 trillion. But officials are pledging to get the tide of red ink under control, beginning with new proposals to be unveiled in President Barack Obama's next budget, which will be sent to Congress in February.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," that the administration has not yet decided on how the deficit will be reduced. But he said Obama was committed to doing it in a way that will not add to the tax burden of families making less than $250,000 a year.