This year's budget deficit will hit $1.845 trillion, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Friday — a figure $600 billion higher than the CBO projected just six weeks ago.
The agency also predicted a total of $9.3 trillion in deficits over the next 10 years.
Lawmakers knew the outlook would be grim because the budget has suffered a kind of one-two punch since the previous CBO forecast. Congress passed two huge spending bills — the stimulus package and an omnibus funding measure — and the economy's downward slide has only continued.
Even though the Obama administration knew it was coming, the number has the potential to change the political landscape.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is bracing herself for the fight this will surely spark.
"You can't say we're going to do less because the numbers are pessimistic. You say, we have to do what we do in light of those numbers," the California Democrat said Thursday. The White House's own deficit estimate for this fiscal year is lower, at $1.75 trillion.
Still, the Obama administration and Pelosi both say they're sticking to their goals — because the numbers are so bad.
"We have to recognize that education, a change in energy policy and health care reform are what will turn the economy around, bring money to the Treasury, make us competitive internationally and put the economy on a much more stable footing as we go into the future," Pelosi said.
The top Republican on the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, says the speaker means that more spending and more borrowing aren't the answer.
"The bureau of public debt is telling us that the federal government is going to have to borrow four times as much as we ever have in the history of our country in a single year," Ryan said.
This is unknown territory, according to Ryan and others. Deficits have never been so deep, and Congress has never spent so much so fast.
Some worry about how America's creditors will take this news, especially if the government shows no signs of cutting back. Leading Democrats respond that the economic crisis itself is unknown territory, and that if the government doesn't pump money into a bad economy, who will?
Still, Obama's ambitious — and expensive — agenda was drawing a tough eye from fiscal conservatives even before the new deficit projections.
One of those conservatives, Rep. Mark Kirk, says, "The American people are absolutely ready for action by the White House to fix the economy and to put Americans back to work. But other priorities — nationalizing health care and on climate change, etc. — this may not be the time."
The Illinois Republican is part of a key group of fiscally conservative but socially moderate lawmakers that the White House would like to have on its side. But Kirk's comment that "this may not be the time" signals a shying away from the Obama administration's big ideas.