WASHINGTON (AP) â€” House Republicans are proposing that any additional budget surplus be earmarked exclusively to pay down the public debt, preventing the money from being used for spending or tax cuts.
``Debt relief should be a top priority, not an afterthought,'' said Rep. Bill Archer, R-Texas, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. ``This plan says it's time for Washington to pay its bills.''
Under the plan released Wednesday, any fiscal 2000 surplus above the $24.4 billion estimated in March by the Congressional Budget Office would be set aside in a new Treasury Department account. The deposit would be mandatory â€” just like entitlement programs such as Medicare â€” and not subject to the battles between Republicans and Democrats over dollars used for discretionary spending or tax relief.
``Funds are automatically deposited and walled off solely for debt reduction,'' Archer said.
The national debt totals about $5.7 trillion, of which the government owes $3.6 trillion to the public and $2.1 trillion to Social Security and other trust funds. Paying down the debt is becoming a political battleground as both parties seek to portray themselves as the true fiscal conservatives.
Although debt is automatically paid down if Social Security surplus dollars aren't used for spending or tax cuts, the bill would add to that by using surplus from the non-Social Security part of the budget. Analysts believe the CBO this summer could re-estimate the $24.4 billion projected surplus to $40 billion to $60 billion.
The account would be permanently put in place, but the amounts deposited would be left up to Congress each year.
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