Except that there is no 2000 surplus, not the way this Congress is going. With 15 working days left in the current fiscal year, Republicans are chafing in the fiscal manacles of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act (the very shaky basis for that decade of surpluses). With the GOP’s deepest domestic-spending cuts headed for a Clinton veto, the options aren’t pretty: Dip into the Social Security surplus or shut down the government. Both involve broken promises, both carry serious political risk – and both are Hobson’s choices that the GOP has gotten burned on before. "The Republicans are still recovering from the 1995 shutdown," says Branegan. "They’d be foolish to try to outmanuever Clinton in a sequel," and the same likely goes for a dip into the trust fund. Which leaves Republicans with an appropriations bill they can’t pass without playing some serious accountancy hopscotch, shifting all the fiscal pain onto next year’s books. Might as well say good-bye to that surplus too.
Say hello to Congress, back from vacation. Say good-bye to the Republican tax cut. Staring down a presidential veto of his $792 billion baby, Trent Lott sighed Wednesday that "I don’t see how we do it," leaving his spokesman to make the real point: We’ll see you next year. Even after a month of stumping at home by the GOP, "public sentiment isn’t pushing Clinton past that $300 billion compromise number," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "Republicans would rather make this their defining issue for the 2000 races and say ‘Clinton denied you a tax cut,’" he says. Not to mention doing some crowing in the meantime about how the surplus, left alone, gets earmarked by default for national debt repayment, which absolutely nobody is against.