Did We Mention The Surplus?

The federal government ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus of $123-billion, recording the first back-to-back surpluses since Dwight Eisenhower was president, the White House announced Wednesday.

The surplus for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 followed a $69.2 billion surplus in 1998, the first time the government had finished in the black since 1969.

Despite the surpluses, the government still has a $5 trillion debt.

Presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart disclosed the figures in advance of a formal White House event where President Clinton was to talk about the administration's economic accomplishments later in the day.

Lockhart called the 1999 surplus the largest in U.S. history in total dollar terms. As a percentage of the total economy, it is the largest surplus since 1951, Lockhart said.

Mr. Clinton last month had said the administration was looking for a surplus of at least $115 billion. That figure was up from a $98.8 billion projection the administration had made in its mid-session budget review in June.

The Social Security Trust Fund had a $124 billion surplus last year, Lockhart said. But $1 billion of that surplus was spent on federal programs; both Democrats and Republicans have promised not to spend any of the trust fund surplus this year.

Lockhart said the president also would note that the national debt has been reduced by $138 billion, the largest debt reduction on record. He said Mr. Clinton would use the occasion to appeal for further fiscal discipline in order to eliminate the debt.

"We have done an enormous amount of work to turn this economy around, turn our fiscal picture around," Lockhart said. "But there is still a lot of work to do."