There it sits, lonely and forlorn on my shelf. A leather-bound copy of the 1999 Budget of the United States of America. A gift from President Clinton to the folks on his team, it was the first balanced budget in decades.
But it wasn’t supposed to be the last. Indeed, experts projected surpluses as far as the eye could see: $5.7 trillion in surpluses, to be exact. The surpluses were so strong that deep into the future—in 2009—the entire national debt was going to be zero. For the first time since Andy Jackson was president, the United States of America would not owe a dime.
It didn’t quite work out that way, did it? As Washington seems paralyzed, our economy stagnates, and America’s full faith and credit is on the brink, it is useful to recall how we got here. This was not an act of nature. There was no unforeseen earthquake, no tsunami, no hurricane that wiped out our surplus. It was instead a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and a Republican president who squandered the surplus.