Renewing his call for consumers to save more for retirement, President Clinton on Wednesday urged Congress to authorize his proposed USA Accounts.
"With USA Accounts, everyone in America will be able to save," the President said at a Rose Garden ceremony. "It is the right way to provide tax relief to the American people."
While many details of the proposed accounts were unveiled, the President left unresolved what role banks and securities firms would play in managing the program.
A White House official said the administration will contact financial firms shortly to discuss private-sector participation in the program, which would use tax credits to encourage retirement savings.
For instance, a low-income married couple would receive $600 a year in tax credits in their USA Accounts. Each year when the couple filed their tax return, these credits would be converted to cash and deposited in a special retirement account. The accounts could not be tapped until the taxpayer turns 65 or dies.
The President said savers would have a choice of investing in stock or bond funds or using a universal retirement plan similar to the Federal Thrift Retirement Plan.
Taxpayers could also contribute to these accounts. The government would match contributions dollar for dollar for low-income taxpayers. The government would kick in 50 cents for every dollar contributed by married couples earning between $40,000 and $100,000, and by single filers earning between $20,000 and $50,000.
The government also would match contributions to private 401(k) and similar plans. This would supplement contributions already made by employers, the President said.
Gains would accumulate tax-free, and about 85% of withdrawals from the accounts would be subject to federal income taxes.
Couples earning more than $100,000 and individuals earning more than $50,000 a year generally would not be eligible for the accounts.
Administration officials said the program is necessary because half of Americans are not covered by pensions, and less than 20% have individual retirement accounts. Only a quarter of workers are covered by 401(k) plans.
The proposal was criticized by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Archer, who said USA accounts would "devastate" private 401(k) plans, because employers would be less likely to offer the benefit. "People might lose their current 401(k) retirement plan, which is the wrong way to go," the Texas Republican said.