WASHINGTON — In a rare burst of election year bipartisanship, President Clinton signed a Republican-backed bill Friday to more than double the limit on earnings allowed for Social Security recipients.
The measure also raised the ceiling on the national debt to $5.5 trillion, averting a federal default.
The Social Security provision raises the limit on outside earnings from $11,520 to $12,500 this year and to $30,000 by 2002. Recipients between ages 65 and 69 lose $1 in benefits for each $3 they earn above the limit.
The politically popular measure was part of the House Republicans' "contract with America." But it also drew strong support from the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats and the American Assn. of Retired Persons, the nation's largest seniors group.
In a statement, Clinton applauded the raising of the debt ceiling as a "bipartisan congressional vote to maintain the nation's credit-worthiness and financial integrity."
"With the signing of this bill," he said, "millions of Americans will once again be secure that this great nation will stand behind its obligations to pay not only beneficiaries of federal programs but bondholders as well."
He also praised Congress for raising the Social Security earnings limit. Under the current standard, more than 900,000 Social Security recipients lose some or all of their benefits, the president said.
"This reduction in benefits discourages work by senior citizens who are able and willing to do so," Clinton said. "Raising the earnings test will increase the standard of living of the elderly and help the nation's economy."
With the threat of a federal default averted, Clinton said Congress should turn its attention to continuing to bring down the federal budget deficit.
On that issue, the administration gave itself a big pat on the back, asserting that Clinton has beaten his own deadline for slashing the federal budget deficit by half.
The administration's boast was based on new figures from the Congressional Budget Office showing that the deficit will have fallen from $290 billion a year at the start of Clinton's presidency to $140 billion by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.