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Americans set a record for withdrawing personal savings in April - and followed by spending at a faster pace in May than they earned, the Commerce Department reported. It said the savings rate fell 1.2 percent - or $6.8 billion - in the first month of the current quarter, the largest drop yet recorded. For May, consumer spending rose 0.6 percent, chiefly on durable goods, while incomes increased at a 0.4 percent rate.

Using new White House budget-surplus projections, President Clinton proposed paying off the national debt by 2015 and buttressing federal retirement programs. He said he wanted to set aside an additional $543 billion for Social Security over the next 15 years and to use the expected budget surplus to reduce the debt. He did not propose dramatic increases in the targeted tax cuts he endorsed earlier this year but didn't rule out deeper cuts in negotiations with congressional Republicans later. He is expected to offer details today on a new proposal to strengthen Medicare. The new projected budget surplus for fiscal 1999 is $99 billion - $20 billion higher than forecasted earlier. That will rise to $142 billion in fiscal 2000, he said.

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Clinton friend and ex-senior Justice Department official Webster Hubbell reached a plea-bargain with independent counsel Kenneth Starr in his perjury and tax-evasion case. Hubbell will serve no additional jail time for pleading guilty to one felony count of lying about his role in an Arkansas land-development scheme and to one misdemeanor count in the tax matter, sources close to the case said.

A jury in Miami was to begin deliberations in a $200 billion lawsuit against the US's largest cigarette producers and two trade groups. The class-action suit was filed on behalf of a half-million Florida smokers who became ill and want to hold the tobacco industry responsible for their health problems. In eight months of testimony, the industry contended the plaintiffs should have known the risks involved and were responsible for their own decisions to smoke.

George W. Bush has three times the support of his nearest rival for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination among Iowans, a new poll showed. A statewide survey by the Des Moines Register said the Texas governor leads Elizabeth Dole by 40 percent to 13 percent. Iowa's bellwether caucuses are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 7.

Five of the six US embassies in Africa that were closed late last week for security reasons have reopened, the State Department said. But the sixth, in Madagascar, remained closed. The others are in Gambia, Togo, Liberia, Namibia, and Senagal.

Mankind is "playing Russian roulette" with the oceans via underwater noise generated by supertankers, military sonar, and other sources, a new study warns. The Natural Resources Defense Council called the phenomenon "an acoustics traffic jam" that in places affects the migration routes and breeding patterns of sea creatures. The study urges stiff new regulations to protect aquatic life.

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