Bill Clinton: Washington Should Focus on Future in Budget Talks

The former president offers his guidance on how Obama and Congress can fix the debt.

 Former President Bill Clinton and philanthropist Bill Gates speak about debt at the 2013 Fiscal Summit in Washington, Tuesday, May 7, 2013. (Charles Dharapak/AP Photo)

Former President Bill Clinton and philanthropist Bill Gates speak Tuesday about debt at the 2013 Fiscal Summit.

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President Barack Obama and lawmakers are still far away from coming up with a sustainable solution to the nation's budget woes. Tuesday, a former president is offered his help.

"The fundamental problem for me is that the budget spends too much money on the present and too little investment in the future," said former President Bill Clinton at a Tuesday summit on the nation's fiscal problems, sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a Washington organization focused on reining in government deficits and debt.

Clinton emphasized that spending on education, as well as research and development, would create a stronger economy and lead to greater stability in the future. He pointed to scientific advances made during his own presidency as an example.

"I spent $3 billion of your money to sequence the human genome," he added, in reference to the Human Genome Project, which finished mapping the human gene sequence in 2000. "And by the way, we had bipartisan agreement to do that."

That's wasn't his only fiscal success. Clinton presided over federal budget surpluses from 1998 to 2000.

While he stressed a focus on the future, Clinton emphasized that Congress needs to take immediate action before the nation's borrowing costs create further problems.

He said that Washington should create a long-term plan that does not hinder economic growth in the short term.

"The question is timing," he said. "If you don't kick a long-term debt reduction plan in at the right time and if we don't pass a plan in advance, then there's always the chance that the economy will start recovering, and interest rates will go through the roof, and it will make this sequester look like a Sunday afternoon walk in the park."

Currently, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the nation's interest payments will total $224 billion for 2013, a figure that will balloon to over $850 billion in 2023.

As for exactly how Obama can push lawmakers toward fiscal compromise amid constant partisan deadlock, Clinton acknowledged that it would be a tough process. He expressed hope that the White House could achieve corporate tax reform, but Clinton also offered some broader advice on building camaraderie.

"I think all the president can do is make his proposals and keep playing golf with Republicans," he said.