Bill Clinton: Focus on job growth, then deficit

UPDATED 2:52 p.m. ET

Former President Bill Clinton urged lawmakers on Capitol Hill to focus on stimulating growth in the U.S. economy before efforts to reduce the deficit.

"I think that we need to focus right now on putting the country back to work," Mr. Clinton said Sunday in an interview on CBS' Face the Nation.

"I'd like to see the economic plan that (President Obama) talked about in his address to Congress enacted first, then when the economy starts growing again in a year or two, then I'd like to put the hammer down on this deficit problem," Mr. Clinton told host Bob Schieffer.

The former president praised Mr. Obama's forthcoming proposal to raise taxes on the highest earning Americans, though he said he did not know the precise timing of when such a move would be implemented.

"I think the president is doing the right thing," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Obama on Monday is expected to unveil a plan calling for a new minimum tax rate for individuals making more than $1 million a year, administration officials told CBS News. The notion is based on an argument made popular by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has said that the current tax system gives an unfair advantage to his billionaire investor friends who do not pay as high a rate on their income as middle-class Americans.

"If you look at the group that has had the biggest income increases and the benefit of most of the tax cuts of the previous eight years before the Obama administration took office, those of us in that income group, we're in the best position to make a contribution to changing the debt structure of the country," Mr. Clinton said, "I don't think that's such a draconian thing."

Mr. Clinton added that the economy will not start growing until the banks clear mountains of debt racked up in the mortgage crisis.

"In the meanwhile I think a combination of the payroll tax changes that Obama recommended, setting up an investment bank and doing more in infrastructure and then looking at areas of specific opportunities to put people to work can really create million of jobs and get us out of hte worst of this doldrum," Mr. Clinton said.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Friday, Mr. Obama's job approval rating has fallen to 43 percent, the lowest of his presidency. And his disapproval rating is at an all-time high of 50 percent.

Those numbers are even worse for Mr. Obama's handling of the economy, and more than half -- 53 percent -- think the country is either headed into or already experiencing another recession. About 39 percent say they it is not.

Mr. Clinton expressed empathy Sunday for the current president's weak poll numbers, but suggested his fellow Democrat would see higher approval ratings once voters know who his Republican opponent will be.

  • Corbett Daly On Twitter»

    CBSNews.com Deputy Politics Editor Corbett B. Daly is based in Washington. He has worked at Reuters, Thomson Financial News and CBS MarketWatch.

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