Clinton predicts budget surplus as deficit falls

The United States domestic budget deficit, which has diminished the ability of successive presidents to fulfil their election promises, is set to fall sharply this year to its lowest level for 23 years, President Bill Clinton announced yesterday. He also forecast a budget surplus by 2002, the year in which the budget is supposed to balance under Bills signed into law by Mr Clinton on Tuesday.

The estimated deficit for the current fiscal year, which ends on 30 September, is below $37bn (pounds 23bn), barely one-third of last year's $107bn deficit.

Cutting the $290bn deficit he had inherited from the administration of George Bush was one of Mr Clinton's central election pledges, but the fall has been more rapid than many economists expected. This year's deficit had been budgeted at around $50bn.

Mr Clinton gave the news at a press conference that was held in blazing sunshine in the White House garden to mark the end of the political year. It was the latest addition to an almost unbroken sequence of sparkling economic indicators over recent months that have enabled the US to claim that it has the strongest and most successful economy in the world.

The falling deficit and continuing low interest rates were among the factors that helped Mr Clinton reach last week's five-year balanced budget agreement with the majority Republican Congress. Revenue figures were revised upwards at a crucial point in the negotiations, which made it possible for legislators to include both the spending programmes that Mr Clinton had promised and the tax cuts wanted by Republicans.

If trends continue, Mr Clinton said yesterday, the budget could be in surplus by $20bn by 2002.

The only immediate cloud on the economic horizon is the three-day old strike at United Parcel Service, where the Teamsters union is protesting against the increasing use of part-time workers. The company, which accounts for 80 per cent of US small freight transport, is almost at a standstill.

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