US fiscal deficit sharply lower for 2012

The US budget deficit fell sharply in just-ended fiscal 2012 to $1.1 trillion, the Treasury said Friday as the Obama administration claimed success in cutting spending and raising fresh revenue.

The U.S. National Debt Clock billboard is displayed on a building on Sixth Ave. in New York City, in 2011. The US budget deficit fell sharply in just-ended fiscal 2012 to $1.1 trillion, but remained at an uncomfortably high ratio to the size of the economy, the Treasury reported.

But the deficit, topping $1 trillion for the fourth year in a row, remained excessively high and a lightning rod for the president as he fights to retain his job in next month's election.

The fiscal shortfall for the year that ended September 30 was down 16 percent, or $207 billion, from the 2011 deficit, helped by a $75 billion surplus for September.

Government receipts were up 6.4 percent to $2.45 trillion, with the largest gains made on payroll deductions and a better corporate tax take.

Spending, at $3.54 trillion, was down 1.7 percent, with the Treasury crediting a decline in stimulus outlays and gains from the end of military operations in Iraq and the drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan.

But higher social security spending offset much of the savings from slowing defense allocations.

Overall, the deficit remains at a level economists consider unsustainably high over the long run: it was equivalent to 7.0 percent of gross domestic product, though that was down from 8.7 percent in fiscal 2011.

The figures came as President Barack Obama, battling to keep his job in the November 6 election, fends off criticism from Republicans that he has been too spendthrift, piling up the national debt, and from fellow Democrats that he has been too cautious about spending to power the economy back from the deep 2008-2009 recession.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney, said the budget figures outlined the choice voters have in three weeks.

"President Obama broke his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term," she said.

"Instead, his reckless spending has led to a fourth straight trillion-dollar deficit, sent our national debt soaring past $16 trillion, and caused the United States to lose our prized AAA credit rating."

"Americans deserve a president who understands that reining in our country's out-of-control spending is not only an economic imperative, it's a moral imperative -- and who will end the era of big government ushered in by President Obama."

The Treasury argued the Obama administration "remains committed to enacting proposals to help create jobs and promote economic growth while adopting a balanced deficit reduction package that puts the budget on a sustainable path over the long term."

Jeffrey Zients, deputy director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, challenged politicians to endorse Obama's spending plans.

"Congress needs to work with the administration to enact balanced deficit reduction that includes further spending cuts and additional revenue from asking the wealthiest to contribute their fair share," he said in a statement.

"This deficit reduction can and must be achieved without sacrificing investments in education, infrastructure, and research and development that are so critical to creating jobs and securing our nation's long-term economic growth and competitiveness."

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency