President Clinton Announces Historic Budget Surplus Numbers

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 26, 1998


The Rose Garden

11:32 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jack. And let me thank theother members of the economic team.

This is of course very good news for the Americanpeople, as the chart shows. Now it's official that this year, wellahead of the most ambitious schedule, America has balanced thebudget. In fact, as the chart shows, the achievement of the Americanpeople will not stop there. OMB predicts that the budget surpluswill be $39 billion this year, the largest dollar surplus in ourhistory, the largest surplus as a share of the economy in more than40 years. America can now turn off the deficit clock and plug in thesurplus clock.

Given the speed with which our nation has reached thisremarkable milestone, it is perhaps all too easy to forget how hardit was and how far we've come. Just six years ago, because of thedrag of deficits, our people were running place, our nation wasfalling behind, interest rates were high and so was unemployment. Onthe day I took office the deficit was projected, this year, to be$350 billion.

How did this greatest projected deficit in history turninto the greatest projected surplus? The old-fashioned way, weearned it. Our nation earned it as a result of hard work by theAmerican people; and, as the Vice President said, we earned it herein Washington with the help of two visionary actions in Congress.First, the courageous vote by the Democrats in 1993 in the midst ofwithering, extreme criticism that led to a cut in the deficit of 90percent. And then the truly historic bipartisan balanced budgetagreement passed by Congress last year that finished the job.

I think it would also be wrong if I didn't mention, asMr. Lew did, that the reinventing government efforts headed by theVice President played a major role. We not only have the smallestgovernment since the Kennedy administration, with more than 300,000fewer people, we also have savings in excess of $130 billion duringthe budget period as a result of those efforts. And Mr. VicePresident, I am very grateful for what you have done.

Now that we're about to have the first surplus sinceNeil Armstrong walked on the moon, we face a crucial decision aboutwhat to do with it. We can use these good times to honor those whoput in a lifetime of work and prepared for the future retirement ofthe baby boomers by saving the Social Security system for generationsto come. Or we can give into the temptation in this election year tosquander our surpluses the moment they start coming in.

I think the choice is clear. We got to where we aretoday with 4.3 percent unemployment, more than 15 million new jobs,the lowest inflation in over 30 years, low interest rates, highgrowth, the highest homeownership in history by doing what was rightfor the American economy over the long run. That is what we should

do now. Social Security has been a cornerstone of our society forthe last six decades, but the present system is not sustainable as welook forward to the full retirement of the baby boom generation. Wehave to protect it for the 21st century.

I was deeply heartened after I spoke about this at theState of the Union, that there were broad public statements ofsupport from the leaders of both parties in both Houses in Congressabout saving Social Security first. However, in recent weeks, seniorRepublican leaders in the House of Representatives seemed to haveretreated from that pledge. In this election year, some now want toraid this surplus for initiatives instead of preserving every pennyof the surplus until we strengthen Social Security.

We cannot ignore the long-term challenge, which we havea unique opportunity and responsibility to meet now, in favor ofshort-term schemes that, however popular in the moment, couldcompromise our future.

Let me be clear: I will oppose any budget that fails toset aside the surpluses until we have strengthened Social Securityfor the 21st century. Let me also be clear that does not mean thatin the future there could never be a tax cut. It simply means thatwe need to know how we're going to pay for the challenges ofreforming Social Security. Once we know that -- and we should knowthat sometime next -- I would hope early next year because of thework being done this year -- then we can have a debate about whatought to be done if there are funds that still are unaccounted forand unobligated.

Today, our economy is the envy of the world. But theprogress was not predestined nor is its future guaranteed. We cannotabandon the strategy of fiscal discipline and investments in thefuture which has brought us to this moment.

Instead, we should work together across party lines tomaintain fiscal responsibility, to save Social Security first, toprepare for an even brighter future. Again, let me thank the membersof the economic team, those who are here and those who proceededthem, for their work in this remarkable effort and every member ofCongress whose votes have contributed to it. Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, over the weekend, those sameRepublican leaders -- I defer to Sarah.

Q -- overcome the disruption which we face with thecomputers as millennium starts April 1, '99. That will disruptall --

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, let me say that we're veryconcerned about that, Sarah, And I asked John Koskinen, formerly adeputy at OMB and before that, a man who had a very distinguishedcareer in the private sector, to come back into public service tosupervise and coordinate our efforts to deal with the computer 2000problem.

It's not something that grabs the headlines everyday butit is, in fact, a profound challenge, not only for the United Statesbut for every country -- which is every country now -- that hasextensive reliance on computers. And there are a lot of very complexquestions. There are computer hook-ups where people at both endshave computers that can be programmed to move easily to 2000, butthere's something in the connection in between which won't. This isa very complicated problem.

Interestingly enough, we discussed it in some detail atthe G-8 meeting in England recently, and I can tell you that we areworking very hard on it. We're working very hard, first of all, tomonitor the progress of every government agency to see that they'reready, and some are doing better than others because some have moreprofound challenges than others. And, secondly, we want to do whatwe can to be supportive of the private sector in the United Statesand their efforts to make these adjustments. But it is a very bigproblem.

And I would urge -- since you've asked the question, Iwould urge everyone in America who hears this exchange to make surethat they have done everything they can do within their own businesssectors to be ready for this.

And we also agreed, by the way, when I was in England towork with other countries so that we can help share information anddo everything we can do make sure that when the new millenniumstarts, it's a happy event and not a cyberspace headache.

Q Mr. President, over the weekend Republican leaderscalled on you to postpone your trip to China, or at the very least,not have a welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square. What will you do,sir?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it would be a mistake topostpone the trip to China. Our partnership with China has succeededin persuading the Chinese not to transfer missile technology andother dangerous materials to nations that we believe should not havethem. We have seen some advances on the human and political rightsfronts recently. We have worked closely with them in North Korea.Today, we are working with them to try to diffuse the tension andprevent a new nuclear race in South Asia.

So I think we have a broad range of issues to deal with,and I think we have enough evidence now to justify the partnershipthat we've had. So I believe we ought to go forward.

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