U.S. government posts smallest budget deficit in five years
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Tax increases, spending cuts and a stronger economy nearly sliced America's budget deficit in half in fiscal 2013, lowering it to the lowest level since 2008, Treasury Department data showed on Wednesday.
The federal government took in $75.1 billion more than it spent last month, leaving the deficit for the fiscal year, which runs from October to September, at $680 billion, down from $1.09 trillion in 2012.
Washington took in about 80 cents for every dollar it spent over the year.
The deficit widened sharply during the 2007-09 recession, which hit tax revenues and increased payments for unemployment benefits.
Higher tax receipts accounted for about 80 percent of the deficit's reduction, the Treasury said in a statement.
The budget gap has fallen at its fastest pace since World War II over the last four years, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said.
"Congress must build on this progress by crafting a pro-jobs and pro-growth budget agreement that strengthens the economy while maintaining fiscal discipline," Lew said in the statement.
Many economists, including those at the International Monetary Fund, believe America's austerity measures over the last few years have hampered economic growth.
With lawmakers meeting on Wednesday for budget talks, Lew called on Congress to deliver a "pro-growth budget agreement that strengthens the economy while maintaining fiscal discipline."
In September, the government took in $301 billion in revenues, about $40 billion more than in September 2012. Revenues rose 13 percent over the full fiscal year.
Federal spending rose 21 percent in September from a year earlier, although Treasury officials noted that some major benefits payments fell outside their regular periods in recent months, skewing the figures. For the full fiscal year, spending declined 2 percent.
The U.S. economy has been struggling to grow enough to bring down unemployment, with growth rates averaging around 2 percent in recent quarters. Many economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, say tighter fiscal policy is in part to blame.
The budget figures were released as U.S. lawmakers launched a new round of budget talks on Wednesday with pledges to work toward easing automatic government spending cuts. They drew familiar partisan battle lines over boosting tax revenues to help pay for that.
The 29-member congressional negotiating panel, commissioned under this month's deal to end a government shutdown and lift the federal debt limit, has until December 13 to agree on a plan that would at least reduce the effects of $109 billion in spending cuts looming in 2014.
Opening statements from both Republicans and Democrats were consistent with recent comments from some lawmakers that a "grand bargain" to reduce deficits by more than $1 trillion is simply not possible in the current environment. Instead, lawmakers said it was important to focus on a smaller deal to ease the automatic "sequester" spending cuts.
"I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we're not going to get anywhere," said Representative Paul Ryan, the House of Representatives Budget Committee chairman, who is leading the Republicans on the panel.
Democratic leaders of the conference committee said they wanted part of any budget savings to come from increased revenue raised by closing some tax breaks for corporations and wealthy Americans.
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