September 27th 2000 - President Clinton announced Wednesday that the federal budget surplus for fiscal year 2000 amounted to at least $230 billion, making it the largest in U.S. history and topping last year's record surplus of $122.7 billion.
"Eight years ago, our future was at risk," Clinton said Wednesday morning. "Economic growth was low, unemployment was high, interest rates were high, the federal debt had quadrupled in the previous 12 years. When Vice President Gore and I took office, the budget deficit was $290 billion, and it was projected this year the budget deficit would be $455 billion."
Instead, the president explained, the $5.7 trillion national debt has been reduced by $360 billion in the last three years -- $223 billion this year alone.
This represents, Clinton said, "the largest one-year debt reduction in the history of the United States."
"Like our Olympic athletes in Sydney, the American people are breaking all kinds of records these days. This is the first year we've balanced the budget without using the Medicare trust fund since Medicare was created in 1965. I think we should follow Al Gore's advice and lock those trust funds away for the future," he said.
In June, the administration predicted the surplus would be $211 billion, and would increase by as much as $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
"The key to fiscal discipline is maintaining these results year after year. We need to put our priorities in order," Clinton said.
The president's news comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill continue to wrestle with the fiscal year 2001 budget numbers. The new budget year begins October 1, and work has been completed on only two of the 13 annual spending bills, as the Republican-led Congress and the White House remain at odds over spending allocations.
"I am concerned, frankly, about the size and last-minute nature of this year's congressional spending spree, where they seem to be loading up the spending bills with special projects for special interests, but can't seem to find the time to raise the minimum wage, or pass a patients' bill of rights, or drug benefits for our seniors through Medicare, or tax cuts for long-term care, child care, or college education," Clinton said.
"These are the things that need to be done and I certainly hope they will be and still make the right investments and the right amount of tax cuts," Clinton said.
Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said the GOP wants 90 percent of the surplus used for the debt. In a CNN interview, he said the other 10 percent should be used to "take care of a lot of priorities we have, like prescription drugs, making sure that our education needs are met, making sure some of our national security needs are met, and doing that while at the same time protecting the Social Security surplus and the Medicare surplus."
That approach would be in lieu of tax cuts, which "we can't do this year because the president vetoed it," Watts said.
Clinton unveiled the new numbers in a statement at the White House before departing for fund-raising events in Dallas and Houston.
"This is part of our fiscal discipline to reduce the debt with the federal surplus," said one White House official who asked not to be identified. Reducing the debt, the official said, has "real effects for real Americans." It means lower interest rates for mortgages, car loans and college loans, and leads to an increase in investment and more jobs."
It is the third year in a row the federal government has taken in more than it spent, and has paid down the debt. The last time the U.S. government had a third consecutive year of national debt reduction was 1949, said the official.
The federal budget surplus for fiscal year 1999 was $122.7 billion, and $69.2 billion for fiscal year 1998. Those back-to-back surpluses, the first since 1957, allowed the Treasury to pay down $138 billion in national debt.