The Treasury Department reported Monday that the government ran a surprising $53 billion surplus in December, about $9 billion higher than the Congressional Budget Office had predicted just last week.
The difference was due both to higher receipts and lower spending. The government took in $283 billion in December and spent $230 billion.
One of the biggest reasons for the surplus was the fact that the government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid $34 billion more into the Treasury in December than they had in 2012. Defense spending is also falling significantly.
The budget surplus is the largest ever recorded for the month of December.
For the first three months of fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1, the government ran a $174 billion deficit, Treasury said. The CBO had predicted an $182 billion deficit for the first three months.
The quarterly deficit compares favorably to the first three months of fiscal 2013, when the government ran a $293 billion deficit. For the year, the government deficit came in at $680 billion, the first time under the Obama presidency it has been less than $1 trillion.
The higher-than-expected surplus is not expected to affect the need to raise the debt limit in February or March.
Under the deal that ended the October government shutdown, Treasury can issue debt to cover expenditures through Feb. 7. Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOvernight Finance: House GOP plans short-term spending bill | Senate Republicans not happy | Yellen intends to finish term Lew: Don't paint Wall Street execs with 'broad brushstroke' Dumping Obama’s faux foreign tax legislation should be high on Trump's to-do list MORE has said that his department can use extraordinary measures for about a month after that to prevent a debt ceiling default.
House Republicans are expected to formulate their approach to the next debt-ceiling increase during their Jan. 29 retreat in Maryland. While some members want to use the vote to extract fresh budget cuts or other concessions from President Obama, established party hands have warned against risking a strong chance to retake the Senate by being too aggressive.
— This story was updated at 2:43 p.m.