WASHINGTON — The federal government’s budget deficit was $27.4 billion in January, down $22 billion or 45% from the $49.8 billion deficit a year ago, the Treasury Department reported Friday.

The deficit is much lower than the median $48.3 billion estimated by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

Outlays totaled $261.7 billion, $14.7 billion or 5.3% less than the $276.4. billion in January 2011.

Receipts were $234.3 billion, $7.7 billion or 3.4% higher than the $226.6 billion a year ago.

In December, the deficit was $85.96 billion on receipts of $240 billion and outlays of $325.9 billion.

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