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US Budget Deficit at Lowest Level in 6 Years

FILE - Congressional Budget Office Director Doug Elmendorf testifies before a House Budget Committee hearing in Washington

The chronic U.S. budget deficit has hit its lowest point in six years as the American economy continues to grow and help boost government revenues.

The independent Congressional Budget Office said Thursday the government had a $486 billion deficit in the fiscal year that ended September 30. That is $195 billion less than a year ago and a better figure than either the agency or the White House budget office had projected.

The United States has not recorded a budget surplus since 2001. But the deficits ballooned to more than $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012 as the country endured its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s and was slow to recover.

But now, as the unemployment rate has dropped to 5.9 percent, more people are working and paying income taxes, leading to an improved U.S. financial balance sheet.

The government deficit peaked in 2009 during the height of the recession at 9.8 percent of the country's economic output. But in the 12-month period just ended, the deficit amounted to only 2.8 percent of the American economy, slightly lower than the average for the United States during the past 40 years.

Opposition Republican lawmakers have frequently feuded with Democratic President Barack Obama over his spending priorities and the size of the government's accumulated debt, now at more than $17.8 trillion.

But with the deficit falling, the issue has rarely been mentioned in political campaigns across the country leading up to the November 4 congressional elections in which all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of those in the Senate are being contested.