Still smarting after his budgetary beat down at the hands of President Obama Friday, Texas Congressman Jeb Hensarling and the Republican Study Committee this weekend invited a second round of punishment. "I stand by what I said," Hensarling said Saturday, referring to his manifestly ridiculous claim the previous day that "the old annual deficits under Republicans have now become the monthly deficits under Democrats." As it turns out, he wasn't talking about the red ink Republican George W. Bush. What he meant, Hensarling instead made clear, is the House GOP is now taking credit for the budget surpluses of the Clinton years, surpluses fueled in part by the 1993 deficit reduction package every single Republican in Congress voted against.
As sentient Americans will recall, the U.S. national debt tripled under Ronald Reagan only to double again George W. Bush. In between, President Clinton erased the GOP budget deficits, producing a $236 billion surplus by his last year in office and leaving Bush a 10 year forecasted surplus of $5.6 trillion. As President Obama made clear in setting Hensarling straight on Friday, he inherited a $1.2 trillion annual deficit when he was sworn in January 2009:
"Now, look, let's talk about the budget once again, because I'll go through it with you line by line. The fact of the matter is, is that when we came into office, the deficit was $1.3 trillion. -- $1.3 [trillion.] So when you say that suddenly I've got a monthly budget that is higher than the -- a monthly deficit that's higher than the annual deficit left by the Republicans, that's factually just not true, and you know it's not true."
While Obama is certainly right, Hensarling now insists was referring to something else. That something is Democratic blame for the Bush deficits and Republican ownership of the Clinton surpluses. As The Hill reported:
In anticipation of Obama rolling out his budget proposal Monday, Hensarling's Saturday statement cited Congressional Budget Office statistics putting the average deficit during 12 years of GOP House control at $104 billion and the average deficit under three years of Democratic control at $1.1 trillion.
The Republicans, as you'll remember, captured the House in 1994, maintaining control of the chamber until they were ejected in 2006. During that span, Bill Clinton presided over the end of the Reagan-Bush I deficits, only see to George W. Bush blow the surplus on tax cuts for the rich, the funded Medicare prescription drug program and the war in Iraq.
While Americans can look back fondly at the surpluses of the Clinton years, Jeb Hensarling wants them to forget that the Republican Party had very little to with it.
In 1993, Congress passed and President Clinton signed a half-billion deficit reduction package, one that included a boost in upper income tax rates to 39.6%. When Clinton's 1993 economic program scraped by without capturing the support of even one GOP lawmaker, the New York Times remarked:
Historians believe that no other important legislation, at least since World War II, has been enacted without at least one vote in either house from each major party.
Inheriting massive budget deficits and unemployment topping 7% from Bush the Elder, Clinton's $496 billion program was nonetheless opposed by every single member of the GOP, as well as defectors from his own party. As the Times recounted, it took a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Al Gore to earn victory:
An identical version of the $496 billion deficit-cutting measure was approved Thursday night by the House, 218 to 216. The Senate was divided 50 to 50 before Mr. Gore voted. Since tie votes in the House mean defeat, the bill would have failed if even one representative or one senator who voted with the President had switched sides.
The rest, as they say, is history. Except that Jeb Hensarling and Congressional Republicans are trying to rewrite it. In their telling, the spiraling deficits of the final Bush years are entirely the Democrats' fault. And the halcyon days of the Clinton surpluses and the flush Treasury he produced, Jeb Hensarling now mythologizes, were brought to you courtesy of the Republican Party.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)