Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Surplus Escalates Clinton Wants to Pay off Debt, Save Social Security, Medicare

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Surplus Escalates Clinton Wants to Pay off Debt, Save Social Security, Medicare

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Armed with new predictions for a budget bonanza, President Clinton laid out an optimistic plan yesterday that he said could extend the life of Social Security, bolster Medicare with a new prescription drug plan and eliminate the national debt by 2015.

This year alone, Clinton said, the budget surplus is projected to be $99 billion, 20 percent more than the administration anticipated five months ago.

Based significantly on the booming economy, the surplus was expected to grow to $142 billion next year and to $5.9 trillion in 15 years, he said.

While Clinton spoke in flowery language about using "the fruits of our prosperity today to strengthen our prospects for tomorrow," his chief of staff, John Podesta, laid it on the line. The new forecasts, he said, are "a big damn deal."

But even as Clinton outlined his priorities for the windfall -- starting with programs for senior citizens and children and including tax incentives for savings accounts -- Republicans on Capitol Hill began lining up support for tax cuts, setting the stage for what could be a vicious budget battle this year.

Pointedly noting that he inherited a large debt from Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, Clinton said that "we have now cut up Washington's credit card. Now we can pay off the debt. By 2015, this country can be entirely out of debt.

"This is a remarkable milestone, but it is clearly within reach if we do not squander the surplus by choosing short-term gain over long-term national goals," he said, drawing a verbal line in the sand against deep tax cuts.

Clinton proposed setting aside a large chunk of the surplus -- $794 billion over 15 years -- to buttress Medicare and offer a prescription drug program for senior citizens.

Today, the president will detail a plan to modernize the program and extend its life at least 25 years.

Clinton also proposed allocating $543 billion for Social Security, which he said would guarantee its solvency until 2053.

"Social Security taxes should be saved for Social Security. Period," Clinton said.

For the first time in four decades, Clinton said, new forecasts project a $5 billion surplus on the non-Social Security side of the budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. That projection provided Republicans with the opening they sought for tax cuts.

While there clearly is some sentiment for cooperation -- congressional Republicans and the administration want to shore up Social Security, for example -- GOP leaders also seized on Clinton's comments to advance their tax cut proposals.

"As the economy continues to grow, we have a responsibility to use the budget surplus to fix Social Security and Medicare's long-term health, and then return some of the surplus to the hardworking people who earned it," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas. …

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