Treasury Department leaders urged a Senate panel Wednesday to approve direct-deposit retirement savings accounts and other measures to boost Americans' lagging savings rate.

Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin warned that private savings have fallen in the last five years, and that the national savings rate ranks among the lowest of industrialized nations.

"Raising our national savings rate further should be a high priority for our nation, especially as we approach the retirement of the baby-boom generation," Mr. Rubin told the Senate Finance Committee.

Despite recent steps by Congress and the Clinton administration to broaden pension plan opportunities and stimulate private savings, Deputy Secretary Lawrence H. Summers lobbied for additional requests included in the president's 1999 budget.

These include letting employers offer direct-deposit individual retirement accounts to workers, who could make pretax contributions via payroll deductions. Also, small businesses could earn a three-year tax credit for establishing retirement plans.

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