White House Longs for 'Golden Era' of Balanced Budgets

Posted:
03/9/11

Ah, those were the good old days.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, peppered with spending questions, couldn't hide a little nostalgia Wednesday for a simpler, more prosperous time a little more than a decade back -- a time of balanced budgets.

"There was a golden era in an administration long, long ago, where balanced budgets were created, where surpluses were created," Carney during an exchange with a reporter at his daily briefing. "Surpluses were envisioned as far as the eye could see: 1999, 2000."

Right. So it wasn't that long ago. In fiscal year 1999, with President Bill Clinton in the White House and Republicans holding a majority on Capitol Hill, the nation's budget was balanced and produced a $1.8 billion surplus. The following year the federal surplus grew to $86.4 billion. And at least some of the credit for that goes to peace, prosperity and a bipartisan, tax-raising budget deal in the early 1990s between President George H. W. Bush and the Congress.

The burst of the dot-com bubble, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq soon erased the surplus -- and President Obama faces a deficit likely to exceed $1.5 trillion this year.

With the clock winding down on another stopgap spending plan, Carney said "we need to get very soon to the hard work, the important but achievable work of negotiating a budget deal that funds government through the end of the year, cuts spending substantially in a way all sides can agree on, and that maintains the important investments to keep our economy growing." The spokesman was back on message.