Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Thursday, 18 February 2010

Barack Obama creates budget deficit taskforce

President Obama on the telephone
The US budget deficit in 2009 was $1.415 trillion

President Barack Obama has set up a taskforce to tackle the growing US budget deficit.

The body will report back by the end of the year on what steps need to be taken to get the deficit down to 3% of GDP.

This year's deficit is expected to climb to 10.6% of GDP. Last year it reached 9.9%, the highest rate since World War II.

Erskine Bowles, ex-chief of staff to President Clinton, and ex-republican senator Alan Simpson will co-chair.

The US budget deficit for the year ending 30 September 2009 was $1.415 trillion (£907bn). It is expected to hit a record $1.56 trillion in 2010.

President Obama has set up the bi-partisan taskforce after plans for a congressionally-agreed body were repeatedly thwarted by Republicans in the Senate.

A congressionally-appointed commission would have had more power to force lawmakers to vote on its recommendations.

Agreement in principle

The huge size of the deficit is the result of the impact of a severe recession, which has cut government tax receipts, and increased spending on programmes such as unemployment insurance and food stamps.

Government finances were also hit by the billions of dollars pumped into the economy in 2008 to stabilise the banking system.

The bi-partisan nature of the taskforce may help get political support for its proposals, said BBC World Service economics correspondent Andrew Walker, but it will still be a struggle to get tax rises and spending cuts approved by Congress.

Even if there is agreement on the principle of reducing the deficit, there will likely be partisan divisions about how to do it, our correspondent said. Republicans are likely to oppose tax increases, while Democrats will be more uncomfortable with deep spending cuts.

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