Category Archives: Bill Clinton

A Decade Ago: Six Steps to The First Balanced Budget in 30 Years by Gregory Hilton

“When I took the office the deficit for 1998 was projected to be $357 billion, and heading higher. This year our deficit is projected to be $10 billion, and heading lower. For three decades, six presidents have come before you to warn of the damage deficits pose to our nation. Tonight, I come before you to announce that the federal deficit–once so incomprehensibly large that it had eleven zeroes–will be, simply, zero. I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget in 30 years. ” – President Bill Clinton, 1998 State of the Union Address

America’s economic outlook was significantly different a decade ago. There was a large trade deficit in 1999, but the other economic indicators were sound. Was this due to policies advocated by the Clinton Administration? Was it the Clinton Administration which achieved a balanced budget, a surplus, 22 million new jobs, as well as solid economic growth in the late 1990’s?
Supporters of the former President obviously think so, but an examination of that era reveals a different story. Many Republicans believe the economic success of the 1990’s happened despite the Clinton Administration, not because of it. They emphasize that President Clinton battled Republicans on taxes, the balanced budget amendment, deficit reduction and welfare reform.
All of these things initiatives were eventually forced on Clinton by a GOP Congress. Clinton does deserved credit for NAFTA, GATT and for not interfering with monetary policy. He also realized that a favorable business climate fostering economic growth trumped any government jobs program.
This is a good time to look back on the Clinton Administration. All of the major memoirs have been written. Historians are also able to place the Clinton Administration in perspective, and away from the political passions of that era. There were many factors which led to the booming economy and ultimately the balanced budget. This was achieved without making substantial cuts in the budget and we also did not receive a windfall of new cash from tax hikes.
Clinton was successful in passing a major tax hike in 1993, and its failure to raise revenue from the upper brackets is described in my August 22nd article. It took years of bitter debate, but in 19977 President Clinton signed the Balanced Budget Amendment, and in two years a balanced budget was obtained. The six major factors in achieving this milestone were as follows:
1) The election of a Republican Congress in 1994 which wiped out what was left of the Clinton economic agenda. This was the first time in 30 years the Republicans had control of both the House and Senate. The new Congress was able to stop 90% of Clinton’s spending initiatives, and they held down the overall rate of spending to below 2% annually. These actions were a powerful message for the stock market. The market increased by 2% during 1993 and 1994, but it soared over 20% from 1995 through 2000.
2) Passage of the capital gains tax reduction and the balanced budget amendment. The cap-gains tax dropped from 28 percent to 20 percent in 1997 – and revenues from that tax alone accounted for 12 percent of all individual income-tax payments from 1997 to 2000 – up from just 7.9 percent from 1993 to 1996. The result was nearly $90 billion in additional income.
3) The end of the Cold War which allowed for $150 billion in Pentagon reductions. This accounted for one-third of the deficit reduction. Military modernization programs were delayed throughout the 1990’s, and they proved to be necessary in the next decade.
4) The PAYGO or pay-as-you-go statutory budget controls were obtained for President George H.W. Bush in exchange for increasing taxes as part of the 1990 budget agreement. The budget situation would have been worse without them, but PAYGO was not the panacea portrayed by its advocates in 1990.
5) Welfare reform which resulted in $38 billion in savings. The number of families receiving AFDC payments declined from 14.3 million to 6 million. Nationally, cash-assistance rolls were cut by 60%, and former welfare recipients were required to work. . In 1992 Clinton had vowed to “change welfare as we know it,” and pollster Dick Morris told him that if he vetoed welfare reform a third time he would not be re-elected. Clinton caved and signed the bill one week before the 1996 Democratic Convention.
6) The golden age of venture capitalism. The dot com bubble burst and the economy was slipping into recession when Clinton left office, but the late 1990’s were years of solid of economic growth. Silicon Valley did transform the world, and the funding from venture capitalists was possible in part because the Reagan Administration had lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 35%, cut marginal rates and helped free up the money that started the Tech Boom.

Taxing the Rich: The Experience of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton by Gregory Hilton

Earlier this week the Obama Administration rolled out a new economic forecast that added $2 trillion to deficit projections from 2010 to 2019. The new total is over $9 trillion and many experts believe the President will have to eventually raise taxes on the middle class. The administration is already intent on a significant tax boost for the wealthy, so it useful to review the past results.
The most memorable soundbite from his 1988 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention was when George H.W. Bush said: “And I’m the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he’ll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent won’t rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I’ll say no. And they’ll push, and I’ll say no, and they’ll push again, and I’ll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’”
He regretted the strong language four years later when the phrase was endlessly repeated by opponents Bill Clinton, Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. A tax increase, which included a new top bracket of 31%, was necessary for Bush to obtain the 1990 Budget Agreement. Among those telling Bush to go along with the tax increase were OMB Director Richard Darman, White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, Gerald Ford, Paul O’Neill, and Lamar Alexander. The headline of the New York Post the next day read “Read my Lips: I Lied.” Bush was raising taxes rates on the upper brackets mostly by ending their deductions and exemptions. It didn’t work: Individual income taxes brought in 8.3 percent of GDP in 1989 and just 7.6 percent of GDP by 1992.
Even though Bush was breaking his word and this would end his political career, Bush went along with the compromise because the agreement contained deficit reductions and PAYGO. PAYGO required all future spending increases to be offset by decreases. It was thought that this would control all future increases and eventually the deficit would be wiped out.
PAYGO was in effect from 1991 to 2002, and while it sounded great, the Congress had fooled Bush because numerous loopholes were discovered to avoid its restrictions. Discretionary spending was totally exempted from PAYCO. That includes programs such as defense, education, environmental protection or 38 percent of federal spending. Noram increases in entitlement spending are also not covered. Anytime PAYCO presented a problem for Congressional spenders they just waived it. “PAYGO is like quitting drinking, but making an exception for beer and hard liquor,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Former President Bush now says the tax increase was one of his greatest regrets. He did not realize the PAYGO pledge was highly exaggerated and “I should have held out for a better deal.”
In fairness to Bush, PAYGO and statutory budget controls were useful in restraining entitlement increases. The situation would have been worse without them, but PAYGO was not the panacea portrayed by its advocates in 1990.
President Bill Clinton also broke his promise to pass a middle class tax cut but it had little impact on his popularity. The 1990 Budget Agreement did not reduce the deficit significantly and it remained a major issue in 1992. Independent candidate Ross Perot campaigned as a fiscal conservative. He had never held elective office and when his lack of experience was criticized in the presidential debates he responded “I have no experience in creating a $4 trillion debt.” Public opinion polls showed Perot with over 40% of the vote in June of 1992, and if the election had been held at that point Perot would have received a landslide 408 electoral votes. Republicans concentrated all of their fire on Perot in the Spring of 1992 and Bill Clinton was able to use this time to reduce his substantial negative ratings.
Similar to George H.W. Bush, Clinton’s solution to the deficit was a tax the rich plan. This was an essential part of his 1993 tax hike, which is similar to President Obama’s current proposal to raise revenue by increasing taxes on the top 5% of income earners.
No Republican voted for Clinton’s 1993 tax hike which passed the House of Representatives by one vote. It also took Vice President Al Gore’s tie-breaking vote to secure final passage in the Senate. Dozens of Democrats went down to defeat a year later for supporting the tax hike.
According to Dr. Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, “Clinton piled on another layer of high tax rates, 36 percent and 39.6 percent, while also greatly hiking taxes on Social Security benefits of working seniors. That failed, too: Individual income taxes brought in only 7.8 percent of GDP in 1993 and ’94, 8.1 percent in 1995. Federal revenues did not get much above the 1989 level until 1997 – when they rose because the capital-gains tax was cut.”
Similar to Bush, Clinton himself later admitted that taxes were increased too much. In fairness to Clinton, his tax hike took place when America was viewed as a low tax nation. Foreign companies were then coming to the United States because our taxes were lower than what they had to compete with at home.
This situation is far different today because so many other nations have now lowered taxes to foster economic growth. There has been no employment growth in places such as Silicon Valley in the last decade because U.S. companies are choosing to locate more employees in lower-tax areas such as China, India and Eastern Europe. This is another reason why President Obama’s tax proposals are unlikely to generate significant revenue.

Clinton’s Kyoto Negotiator: House Democrats Have Gone Too Far by Gregory Hilton

Bill Clinton’s liberal climate negotiator now says House Democrats have gone too far. Tim Wirth is one the original authors of cap and trade in 1988, led the Kyoto negotiations and was National Co-Chair of the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. Senator Wirth says Republicans are right to call the legislation passed by the House the cap and tax bill. According to Wirth, the legislation passed by the House is “out of control” and needs to be scaled back. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not backing down and the vote is still scheduled for November.
Wirth is still supporting passage of the Waxman-Markey bill but is comments are a blow to the environmental movement. In April the Senate voted 67 to 31 against fast-tracking a climate change bill so that it did not have to face a filibuster. “It’s a bad mistake to try to cut out the Republicans and cut off debate and limit amendments on such an important bill, and I say that as a supporter of cap and trade,” argued Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
We would still have to contend with the global warming debate even with the elimination of cap and trade. In addition to Wirth, other prominent liberal supporters of cap and trade are acknowledging problems with this scheme. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says,”I just want to make sure that the ratepayers in my state don’t get socked hard. And that the manufacturing doesn’t get crippled.”

The Bush Deficit, the Clinton Surplus and TARP by Gregory Hilton

The 10 year budget outlook

The 10 year budget outlook

For eight years many liberals complained about the Bush deficit and praised the Clinton surplus. They had an excellent point, but overlooked many key factors. Bush created a Medicare drug entitle­ment which will cost an estimated $800 billion in its first decade. He increased federal education spending 58% faster than inflation. He was also the first President to spend 3% of GDP on federal anti-poverty programs. For some reason the left wing is no longer talking about the deficit.
The above graph does include spending on Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush years. While Bush did fund the wars through emergency supplementals (not the regular budget process), that spending did not simply vanish. It is of course included in the numbers above.
The Bush deficit declined significantly until early September of 2008 when the global economic crisis began. Bush responded with TARP (the toxic asset recovery program). This was done because $550 billion was pulled out of our financial and investment systems in ONE hour on September 18, 2008. The situation was dire and there was no longer a firewall between the banks and the stock market. There was $40 trillion in outstanding Credit Default Swaps, and most of it turned out to be worthless. That’s more than the GDP of the entire United States for three years.
The Bush administration worked diligently to keep the American economy going. Many conservatives and libertarians were disappointed by TARP. They believed we should leave the economy alone and it would fix itself. The conservative magazine National Review did not agree and supported TARP as a necessary evil. The House Progressive Caucus was opposed but their prediction that it would fail, has not proven true.
TARP was necessary to save the economy from collapse. Letting the banks fail was not the right thing to do and it would have led to a Great Depression. TARP and all of the other government efforts in the fall of 2008 did unfreeze the credit markets. Every single credit indicator (LIBOR, TED spread, A2/P2 spread, intra-bank lending, etc) shows that the markets have significantly unfrozen. The major banks have now passed their stress tests, and they are able to raise capital through the public markets. The American economy survived without a depression. There was no wholesale meltdown of the U.S. banking system. The big banks did not fail.
The taxpayers could still lose $12 to $20 billion on the money given to AIG. That is disappointing, but it is big improvement from a few months ago. AIG received $182 billion from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury.
Many thought the taxpayers were going to get stuck for over $100 billion, but AIG has been rapidly selling assets and the loss will be far less than what was once believed. The real outrage is that AIG lost $98 billion in 2008 but that did not stop them from paying large bonuses after they received the balout money.
President Obama went well beyond TARP with his $787 stimulus in February of 2009. The Stimulus bill includes tax cuts but they are not the type that spur the economy. The economic model of the stimulus bill assumes every $1 of government spending increases the economy by $1.60. By that logic, debt-ridden, big-government countries like Italy, France and Germany should be wealthier than America. Not one House Republican voted for the final stimulus package, which is remarkable.
The moderates did not support it because it was too big, too porky, and hardly stimulative at all. It also wiped out many of Bill Clinton’s excellent welfare reform laws. We did see deficit reduction and economic growth in the late 1990’s.
Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress worked together. They agreed to restore a lower tax rate on capital gains and virtually eliminate capital gains taxes on owner-occupied housing. The galloping economy then reduced the deficit by a record level.
Another major factor was the “peace dividend” after the Cold War. Clinton however did not erase the debt. The national debt went up every single year. The Clinton surplus is also debatable. He took a vast amount of money out of Social Security in order to cover his budgets and give the appearance of reducing debt.