Clinton: How I Spent My Nation's Surplus

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The U.S. Treasury is flush. So what do we do now with the hundreds of billions in projected surpluses over the next decade? President Clinton made a bid for some of the swag Wednesday, unveiling a $22 billion plan to cut the working poor a slice of prosperity via an increase in the earned income tax credit. It's compassionate conservatism — or sensible liberalism — at its best, expanding a program that cuts taxes while helping achieve economic parity. As a bonus, Clinton also wants to add incentives for poor families to invest in 401(k) funds. It's all part of a $300 billion antipoverty program Clinton plans to trot out at his January 27 State of the Union Address.

Beyond the 19 million working poor families who stand to get an extra few hundred bucks in the mail each year, the big beneficiary of the proposal will probably be Al Gore. The veep gains some ammunition to counter Bill Bradley's charge that he would spend too little on social programs. And the Republicans are also bickering over who would do more to help the poor. George W. Bush's entry, a half-trillion-dollar tax cut that would expand the lowest tax bracket and offer other tax breaks to the working poor, was immediately blasted by John McCain as a plan that benefits only rich white men. The most likely outcome is that the public will get what opinion polls show it wants — a plan to pay down the national debt while expanding opportunities for the working poor. Of course, if the market goes south tomorrow, all this debt reduction and antipoverty talk will be quickly forgotten.