CNN has this statement about the Clinton Surplus:

President Clinton announced Wednesday that the federal budget surplus for fiscal year 2000 amounted to at least $230 billion, making it the largest in U.S. history and topping last year's record surplus of $122.7 billion."This represents the largest one-year debt reduction in the history of the United States," Clinton said Wednesday morning. "Like our American athletes in Sydney, we've been breaking records and have come a long way."In June, the administration predicted the surplus would be $211 billion, and would increase by as much as $1 trillion over the next 10 years. Clinton also announced the federal government paid down the national debt by $223 billion this year, and by more than $360 billion since 1998, the largest debt reduction in U.S. history.

However I have seen this contested and I am skeptical that the national debt got reduced by $223 billion that year. Did it happen?

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    Sorry, I am going to close this as off topic. While an interesting question on Economics, it's not quite about a claim but about the meaning of some statements. It would be appropriate on Economics but it's closing down, so I won't migrate. – Sklivvz Apr 28 '12 at 20:39
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    @Sklivvz, "it is not quite about a claim." In what way does that statement resemble the truth? Clinton also announced the federal government paid down the national debt by $223 billion this year. That either did or didn't happen. How is this a question about meaning? – user1873 Apr 28 '12 at 20:55
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    I've completely reworded your question as per your comment. It's now on-topic and I've reopened. – Sklivvz Apr 28 '12 at 21:06
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    Note: if you know the answer and ask a question to make a statement, you are in the wrong place (see our FAQ) – Sklivvz Apr 28 '12 at 21:07
  • @Sklivvz, you are going to have to elaborate. where specifically in the faq does it mention asking questions you know the answer to? – user1873 Apr 28 '12 at 21:16


This was an item that:

Further, The Washington Post even goes into great detail, recalling that Clinton literally allowed the government to shut down rather than pass a budget that wouldn't accomplish his goal of reducing the debt. People tend to downplay that incident, but it was probably the single most important event you can point to when discussing this issue as it demonstrates that Clinton was commited to a balanced budget and did take the necessary steps to do it.

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    +1 for the list of sources. The FactCheck one, in particular, shows that there are potentially different (non-standard) accounting methods that get different answers, but they all point in the same direction. – Oddthinking Apr 29 '12 at 12:33
  • You removed all traces of sarcasm from my post! It's like my writing, only without any of the clever bite. I feel like it's been castrated. I do wonder if the OP asked because he wanted sources to prove its true, or if he really questioned if it was real. – user6936 Apr 29 '12 at 12:35
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    I plead guilty; I thought the original was sailing close to the wind with the be nice directive. Whether you are right to question the OP's motives, it's important to remember they aren't the real audience. Answers are read by far more parties than the OP. I didn't mean to make you feel like your words have been castrated; sorry. – Oddthinking Apr 29 '12 at 13:05
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    @Oddthinking It's okay. You're right, of course, I wasn't being nice. I'm often not nice when it comes to logical errors or ridiculousness. :D I'm a little scared to look at other questions on this site, TBH, because I'm guessing I will find most people are far too out of center to be reasonable. :P – user6936 Apr 29 '12 at 13:26
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    "his goal of reducing the defecit." perhaps you meant to write "debt" there. The usual distinction being that the deficit is in one-years budget and the debt being the accumulated situation. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Apr 29 '12 at 22:34


Treasury Direct shows that the Public Debt has increased every year (tables 2010-2000 and 1999-1990).

09/30/2001 5,807,463,412,200.06

09/30/2000 5,674,178,209,886.86

09/30/1999 5,656,270,901,615.43

09/30/1998 5,526,193,008,897.62

09/30/1997 5,413,146,011,397.34

09/30/1996 5,224,810,939,135.73

09/29/1995 4,973,982,900,709.39

09/30/1994 4,692,749,910,013.32

09/30/1993 4,411,488,883,139.38

09/30/1992 4,064,620,655,521.66

The way they count such a large surplus, was by not counting money the government owes itself.

Quaap.com -

When Factcheck states that there was a surplus, they are looking at only the public debt and are not including the intra-governmental debt. Looked at this way, yes, there was a surplus. So much money was coming in through Social Security taxes (and used to buy Treasury bonds) that the general fund exceeded the budget by several hundred billion.

Is this a valid way to view the matter? After all, the money the government owes itself shouldn't count, right? Well, yes, it should. The social security money was already earmarked for future social security payments, and the Social Security Trust Fund will want to get its money back when it comes time to make more payments. So yes, this is real debt and I can't think of any reason to exclude it.

More Analysis.

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    To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this answer as this is one of the area's where accounting is very, very messy and the difference between the raw numbers and the way accouting is actually done can cause a lot of confusion. Can you get some more sources for this answer to bolster you argument as the general consensus is that the debt reduction claimed counts. – rjzii Sep 6 '12 at 14:08
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    @RobZ, what other sources would I go to, but the official one? Did you want links directly to the U.S. Department of the Treasury Bureau of the Public Debt (TreasuryDirect is an arm of it), or did you want more sources of analysis of the Treasury Bureau numbers? – user1873 Sep 6 '12 at 14:13
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    More sources on the analysis of the numbers that indicate that the accounting practice being used is a valid way of approaching it. Given the complexity of accounting you need to show that in general accountants are saying that there was no reduction in the debt even though everyone else is saying that there was. Since more people are saying there was a reduction than not, the burden of proof is on those claiming there was not and they also need to show that the practice they are using is valid. – rjzii Sep 6 '12 at 14:27
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    @RobZ, I didn't realize that "the burden of proof" works that way. I would argue that the accounting method used here is rather simple. How much money came in, versus how much in IOUs were issued to the public+government entities. Everyone else is saying that the debt was reduced, because they aren't counting debt that the government owes to itself. I do not mean to invalidate any practice, only explain the one being used here, and by everyone else. Feel free to update the other answer to clarify that it doesn't count intergovernmental loans. – user1873 Sep 6 '12 at 15:19
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    @RobZ, The burden of proff is on both. philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/678/… – user1873 Sep 6 '12 at 16:18

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