TUCSON — President Bill Clinton said Thursday he intends to use the majority of a federal budget surplus to extend the life of Social Security and Medicare well into the next century.
Speaking to nearly 3,000 Arizonans gathered at the Tucson Convention Center, Clinton proposed investing 62 percent of budget surpluses during the next 15 years to extend Social Security to 2050. He also wants to spend an additional 15 percent to extend Medicare to 2020.
Social Security is currently funded through about 2024 and Medicare through 2010.
Clinton said it is difficult to care for Americans who are living longer than ever before at a time when the economy is thriving.
“The tendency after going through difficult and challenging times is for people to relax and basically just enjoy the moment, or think about other things and get distracted,” he said. “We can’t sustain the progress unless we make some changes. Paying down the national debt will immensely strengthen the American economy.”
Last year saw the first budget surplus in 30 years — nearly $70 billion.
To reduce the national debt, Clinton said that Americans should resist Republican-proposed tax cuts, which he called excessive. Paying off the debt would allow for more selective tax cuts and lead to lower interest rates on student loans, mortgages and credit card payments, he said.
“There will still be a substantial amount of money out of which you could have tax cuts,” Clinton added.
Lesley Wimbely, a 53-year-old Tucson resident who represents the American Association of Retired Persons to the U.S. Congress, said she was encouraged by the president’s visit and by his plans for the surplus. Wimbely attended the speech with her husband, George.
“We’re very glad that the president is very serious about the need for Social Security to be solvent,” Lesley said.
George said he was encouraged by what he saw as a bipartisan approach to the issue by both the president and Congress. U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., attended the event, as did U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz. Both congressmen said they would work with Clinton to preserve Social Security and Medicare.
The president addressed residents of all ages in the 2,000-seat TCC Music Hall, then greeted hundreds outside who were not able to win tickets in the lottery. Those outside were able to listen to the speech on speakers.
Clinton thanked Tucson residents for their support. Pima County voters helped Clinton become the first Democratic president to win the state since Harry Truman’s 1948 victory.
While support for the president was rampant inside the auditorium, at least 50 people gathered outside the convention center to protest the president’s foreign policy. Many condemned Clinton’s foreign policy, especially recent attacks and sanctions against Iraq.
The president ended his visit with a trip to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ spring training before flying to San Francisco for a Democratic Party function.
(Photo) Khue Bui of the Associated Press
President Clinton works the crowd after speaking about Social Security and Medicare at the Tucson Convention Center Thursday.