Amidst slapping around a bit of Jonathan Chait silliness today, Mickey Kaus makes the following stumble:
I remember Clinton's first term as being rather effective--he passed welfare reform, NAFTA, and put the budget on a path to balance. Second term? Well, there was the "race initiative"! And he managed to preserve the surplus.
With all due respect to Mickey--and he's due plenty--this is something of a whitewash where the budget is concerned. Clinton was never terribly interested in actually balancing the budget (remember the ad that showed about a dozen clips of him promising different dates and amounts for cutting the deficit?), and any serious "path to balance" didn't start until after 1994, when Clinton and the newly-Republican congress were locked in a Mexican standoff over taxes and spending. Clinton wanted more of the above, the congress wanted less, and they both hated each other, so, beneficently, nothing happened. The budget was effectively baselined at inflation plus a moderate amount of pork, and it fell into balance basically by accident.
Clinton was never terribly interested in "preserving the surplus." He had the congress on the ropes with a hefty series of spending initiatives cued up in early 1998, before the remainder of his term was effectively ended by the Lewinsky scandal. And let's not forget Clinton's infamous Buffalo speech when he told an audience they couldn't get any surplus money back in tax cuts because they might not spend it the "right" way. As that quote illustrates, Clinton's main interest in "preserving" the surplus consisted of preserving the government's grasp on that money.