Stuart E. Eizenstat, the President's choice to be deputy Treasury secretary, testified Tuesday that the administration's enthusiasm for USA retirement savings accounts is skyrocketing along with budget surplus forecasts.
"Personal savings remains extraordinarily low" despite the strong economy, Mr. Eizenstat said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. The USA plan "will create savers out of those who now don't have the wherewithal to save."
After announcing Monday that projections of the federal budget surplus over the next 15 years had risen by $1.1 trillion to $6 trillion, President Clinton said he was willing to consider more tax cuts.
Mr. Eizenstat emphasized, however, that the centerpiece of the administration's plan would be the USAs. "This is the kind of tax cut we think makes sense because it is savings-oriented, not consumption- oriented," he said.
President Clinton proposed the USA, or universal savings account, during his State of the Union speech in January to encourage retirement savings among low- and middle-income workers who do not participate in pension and 401(k) plans.
The government would use tax credits-$600 a year for a lower-income family, for example-to seed these accounts, which could be invested in stocks, bonds, or a universal retirement plan similar to the Federal Thrift Retirement Plan. Most taxpayers could voluntarily add to these accounts and receive government matching funds based on their income level. The accounts could not be tapped or taxed until the owner turns 65 or dies.
Mr. Eizenstat defended the plan against criticism that it would create a new federal bureaucracy and prompt the private sector to scale back employer-sponsored programs.
The USAs would be "quite simple to administer" because they rely on tax credits, he said. Existing anti-discrimination rules would prevent employers from canceling plans for low- and middle-income workers, he said.
Mr. Eizenstat, State Department under secretary for economic, business, and agricultural affairs, is expected to sail through the committee. Republican and Democratic members applauded the Washington veteran. "I am an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Eizenstat," said Sen. John H. Chafee, R- R.I. "It is a splendid nomination by the President."
Mr. Eizenstat also supported changes to the international financial system, including increased disclosure and tougher bank supervision. He also urged lenders to be more vigilant about risk management of their international activities.