Saturday, August 25, 2012
Those of you who have read yesterday’s article (“Bill Clinton: Economic policy genius or just lucky?”) may be saying to yourself, “Okay, he may not have created millions of jobs, but at least he balanced the budget!” Sorry to disappoint you, again. He never did, but he came close.
Bill Clinton was President from January 2003 through December 2000. Here, according to the US Treasury Department, are the national debt figures for the years of his Presidency. You’ll notice that our national debt increased every year, which wouldn’t have happened if he’d balanced the budget or, even better, generated a surplus.
So what’s the basis for his making the claim that he left the Presidency with a surplus? Was it clever bookkeeping that included moving expenses “off-budget” and borrowing from government trust funds? Mostly what he did was take advantage of favorable economic conditions. You’ve heard the expression, “A rising tide raises all boats.” The economy was doing well, great in fact. Government revenues were up. To his credit, President Clinton kept his fiscal cool, took advantage of the situation and continued, year after year to lower the annual deficit. He did not balance the budget or create a surplus. Our national debt was higher when President Clinton left office than the year before, by $17.9 billion, and more than $1.26 trillion higher than when he first took office. No question about it, as you can see from the table, annual deficits were declining throughout his Presidency and well on their way to zero. “Good job, Bill,” but it helps to be President during a booming economy.
All things considered, a $17.9 billion fiscal year 2000 deficit is wonderful, chump change by today’s standards, lunch money for the Obama Administration. It’s literally a rounding error in a world of trillion dollar shortfalls. But could we puh-leeze stop talking about Bill Clinton as if he was God’s gift to government? He’s a smart guy who had a strong economy making him look good. The only reason President Obama is parading him around is because Bill Clinton is personally popular, so the pundits tell me, and because the President’s campaign is hoping the legend of “Bill Clinton, Economic Policy and Budget Genius” will distract voters from President Obama’s dismal record – including the inability to produce a budget, let alone balance one.
For the record, President Obama is running for re-election, not Bill Clinton. What was it that Lincoln said? Something about not being able to fool all of the people, all of the time?