Romney says would balance US budget in "few years"

NASHUA, N.H., Jan 6 (Reuters) - Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney said on Sunday he would balance the U.S. budget deficit within "a few years" if he won the 2008 race for the U.S. presidency.

Asked by a voter at a rally in the southern New Hampshire city of Nashua whether he would balance the budget by March 2009 if elected, Romney said he wouldn't give a timetable because of the cost of financing the U.S. war in Iraq.

"I won't tell you what year it will be because it's probably going to take a few years, it may take to the end of my first term to get to a point to be able to submit a balanced budget because we are going to be completing the conflict in Iraq," he said.

The former Massachusetts governor is in a tight race in New Hampshire with Arizona Sen. John McCain ahead of Tuesday's primary, which will help pick who represents the Republicans in November's election to succeed U.S. President George W. Bush.

The two are neck-and-neck in most polls.

Romney, who made a fortune as a venture capitalist and shot to prominence for turning around the scandal-plagued 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, has nurtured an image of managerial competence and aggressively courted economic conservatives.

"It's time for us to have a balanced budget in America again," he told the rally.

The Bush administration has forecast a $258 billion deficit for fiscal 2008, an estimate made in July before fiscal 2007 finished on Sept. 30 with a $163 billion deficit.

Romney said he would put a cap on non-military discretionary spending and cut government waste.

"When bills have pork in them that I don't like, I will veto those bills. And I'm going to keep our taxes down. By keeping our taxes down we grow our economy, by reigning in spending we will finally be able to balance our budget."

The U.S. budget deficit has fallen for three years as higher incomes and capital gains helped tax receipt growth outstrip spending increases.

But most economists say the string of declines from a record $413 billion deficit in 2004 may be coming to an end as a housing slump takes its toll on the U.S. economy, putting the brake on revenues that had already begun to slow.

Editing by Sandra Maler