WASHINGTON — The White House predicted on Tuesday that this year's budget deficit will register at $455 billion, less than forecast in February and the lowest yet of Barack Obama's presidency.
The new figure is slightly less than 2014's deficit of $483 billion. In February, the administration predicted a deficit of $583 billion.
During Obama's first term, deficits topped $1 trillion each year. That reflected a severe financial crisis and the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
But as the economy has recovered, revenues have gone up. The rates of inflation for expensive health care programs like Medicare have fallen and annual agency budgets have remained tight, contributing to the improved deficit.
On the economy, the White House predicts 2 percent growth for the current year, rising to 2.9 percent next year. It says the official unemployment rate should drop to 5.1 percent, down slightly from the current national average of 5.3 percent, already a seven-year low. The White House had predicted 3 percent growth in gross domestic product earlier this year in an estimate that was finalized before a bad winter slowed the economy.
While the new numbers reflect improvement, budget hawks continue to warn that the nation's long-term fiscal trajectory is unsustainable and will require lawmakers to eventually tackle the rising costs of expensive benefit programs such as Medicare.
But after several failures by Obama and Republicans to agree on the budget, there's no sense in Washington that changes will be made as long as Obama — who insists on tax increases on the wealthy and special interests such as oil companies — occupies the Oval Office. The latest figures contribute to a lack of urgency.
Budget negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2011 and late 2012 broke up in acrimony, largely over an impasse on tax hikes.
"Under the President's leadership, the deficit has been cut by more than two-thirds as a share of the economy, representing the most rapid sustained deficit reduction since World War II, and it continues to fall," said White House budget director Shaun Donovan in a blog post.
Donovan again issued a call to ease the return of stringent budget curbs called sequestration that mandate that the budget of the Pentagon and domestic agencies both be frozen at current levels. He also reiterated that Obama will reject GOP efforts to increase the Pentagon's budget without relief for domestic programs.
The 2015 budget year officially ends on Sept. 30.