President Barack Obama, calling current deficit spending “unsustainable,” warned of skyrocketing interest rates for consumers if the U.S. continues to finance government by borrowing from other countries.
“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China,” Obama said at a town-hall meeting in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, outside Albuquerque. “We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children’s future with more and more debt.”
Holders of U.S. debt will eventually “get tired” of buying it, causing interest rates on everything from auto loans to home mortgages to increase, Obama said. “It will have a dampening effect on our economy.”
The president pledged to work with Congress to shore up entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare and said he was confident that the House and Senate would pass health-care overhaul bills by August.
“Most of what is driving us into debt is health care, so we have to drive down costs,” he said.
Obama also prodded Congress to pass restrictions on credit- card issuers, saying consumers need “strong and reliable” protection from unfair practices and hidden fees.
“It’s time for reform that’s built on transparency, accountability, and mutual responsibility, values fundamental to the new foundation we seek to build for our economy,” the president said.
Obama called on Congress to pass a credit-card bill he can sign into law by May 25 that would clamp down on what he says are sudden rate increases, unfair penalties and hidden fees. He wants the measure to protect consumers, strengthen monitoring and impose penalties for credit-card company violations.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the credit-card bill last month after adding a provision requiring banks to apply consumers’ payments to balances with the highest interest rates first. The bill also imposes limits on card interest rates and fees.
The Senate is debating its version today. It also would require credit-card companies to give 45 days’ notice before increasing an interest rate. It would prohibit retroactive rate increases on existing balances unless a consumer was 60 days late with a payment.
‘Complicit’ in Debt
The president said Americans have been hooked on their credit cards and share some of the blame for the current system.
“We have been complicit in these problems,” he said. “We have to change how we operate. These practices have only grown worse in the midst of this recession.”
The House and Senate will have to iron out any differences and vote again on a final, compromise version before sending it to Obama for his signature.
The American Bankers Association, which represents card issuers, has warned lawmakers and the Obama administration against taking punitive action or setting requirements that are too stringent. Doing so, the lobby group says, would limit consumer credit and worsen a credit crunch.
Obama said that restrictions “shouldn’t diminish consumers’ access to credit.”
Uncollectible credit-card debt rose to 8.82 percent in February, the most in the 20 years that Moody’s Investors Service Inc. has kept records. Lawmakers have said they’re under increasing pressure from constituents to respond to rising interest rates and abrupt changes to consumers’ accounts.
Meetings With Industry
Obama held a White House meeting last month with executives from the credit-card industry, including representatives from Bank of America Corp. and American Express Co. Afterward, he told reporters that credit-card issuers should be prohibited from imposing “unfair” rate increases on consumers and should offer the public credit terms that are easier to understand.
“The days of any time, any increase, anything goes -- rate hike, late fees -- that must end,” Obama said today at Rio Rancho High School. We’re going to require clarity and transparency from now on.”
He also said the steps he has taken to stimulate the economy and start the debate on overhauling the health-care system are beginning to take effect.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we put this recession behind us,” Obama said. “But we do know that the gears of our economy, our economic engine, are slowly beginning to turn.”
Taking questions from the audience, Obama repeated his stance that he wants legislation to overhaul the health-care system finished before the end of the year, saying it is vital to the economy.
Health-care costs are driving up the nation’s debt and burdening entitlement programs such as Medicare, the government- run insurance program for those 65 and older and the disabled.
The programs’ trustees reported May 13 that the Social Security trust fund will run out of assets in 2037, four years sooner than forecast, and Medicare’s hospital fund will run dry by 2017, two years earlier than predicted a year ago.
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