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Clinton aims to retire debt by 2013

Payoff of the $3.6 trillion would come 2 years early

WASHINGTON — President Clinton's proposed budget for 2001 will pay off the $3.6 trillion national debt two years early, by 2013, the White House said Tuesday.

"The president will announce that the budget for 2001 will put America in a position to pay off the $3.6 trillion debt by 2013, two years earlier than planned," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters.

"We will do that while protecting Social Security funds and dedicating the interest savings to Social Security, pushing Social Security solvency beyond 2050 and continuing to make the important strategic investments that will continue this unprecedented economic expansion, continue our commitment to education, fighting crime and protecting the environment," Lockhart said.

Lockhart said this could be done because of "a combination of a strong economy, the hard work of the American public and sensible fiscal policy."

The U.S. national debt currently totals about $5.6 trillion, of which about $3.6 trillion is publicly held, but the White House projections use only the publicly held figure. About $2 trillion of the remaining debt is owed by the government to the Social Security retirement benefit fund.

Lockhart said the Clinton administration would release its 2001 budget plan Feb. 7. Clinton's annual State of the Union address is Thursday, and Lockhart said he would talk about the next year's budget then as well.

If the Clinton administration's projections come to pass, it would be the first time the United States has been debt-free since 1835, Lockhart said.

He put a political spin on this remarks, noting that Clinton had "abandoned the approach of previous administrations" — without saying that Clinton is a Democrat and that the two previous administrations were Republican — and said that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's plans for a tax cut would not pay off the debt by 2013.