Utah Democratic Party Perpetuates Clinton Surplus Myths

The Utah Democratic Party seems to be about as truth challenged as the mis-guided and hypocritical “teabaggers” throwing hissy fits parties today. (Seriously, where were you guys when Bush racked up trillions in deficits? Worshiping at the shrine of fellow debt addict Ronald Reagan?) From a press release issued today:

In January 2001 when Bill Clinton left office, it was projected that by now our national debt would be paid off.

This is just the latest in a series of historical revisions to give the impression that Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility at a time when they are continuing the Bush legacy of giving away taxpayer funds to wealth corporations and using economic means to engage in social engineering. The facts simply do not bear out their claims.

In fact, the federal deficit decreased in exactly one of the years that President Clinton was in office. Yeah, one. The amount of debt incurred by Bill Clinton is around $1.54 trillion dollars, placing him third behind George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. And that blip in 2000? An anomaly as the dot-com fueled economic bubble of the 90s collapsed upon itself in grand fashion the next year. Making long-term predictions off of a single year of results is idiocy.

You also can’t conveniently blame Congress. Democrats were in charge of the House during Reagan’s excesses, Republicans and Democrats split the years during Clinton’s, and both parties split the blame for Bush. Both of you are debt addicts.

The hypocrisy doesn’t end there:

Utah Democrats have been a consistent voice against the ballooning of the national debt during the Bush years.

So now that the Bush years are over, deficits don’t matter since now you can borrow-and-spend on your pet issues and projects, right? Except, of course, the Democratically-controlled Congress decided to go along with Bush deficit spending for two years including the $850B bank bail-out funded entirely by deficit spending. So which is it, guys? Is deficit spending always bad or just when you aren’t in control of the taxpayer credit card?

If Democrats want to be taken seriously as fiscal conservatives, they need to stop trying to lie their way into the role. You guys are as bad about idolizing Clinton as Republicans are about Reagan.

(And don’t think the teabaggers got off scott-free. I’ve got plenty to say about those bozos later.)

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27 Responses

  1. craig41 says:

    One year? That looks like more to me.

    Also, consider the setting for the dems press release, they’re responding to the right protesting taxation/spending when republicans had been doing it for 6 years unchecked, and 2 years where they still had the bush veto.

    But really, where did you find that one year thing, because it doesn’t match anything i’m seeing.

    Here’s the CBO numbers.

  2. Jesse says:

    I got my data from the Wiki. According to those figures, the actual outstanding debt only decreased in 2000. It increased in all other years.

  3. craig41 says:

    My guess is that the CBO isn’t counting interest on the national debt. It took a larger surplus to cover all spending and interest on the debt to leave some left over to pay down the principle. But that really is just a guess (and i don’t really have time to look it up until later). According to the CBO though, revenue exceded outlays for four consecutive years.

  4. Jesse says:

    That’s kind of the point. Despite all of those surpluses, the public debt increased substantively. In fact, that $1T in surpluses resulted in $420B in additional national debt. Claiming that staying Clinton’s course would have eliminated the national debt is an outright lie.

  5. Todd says:

    The Clinton administration had some significant accomplishments — deficit reduction being one of them. It also had its flaws as any Democrat who lived through the massacre of 1994 and felt the shame of the President’s actions during the Lewinsky scandal can tell you.

    We stand by our statement.


    It is your supposition that the Democratic Party would “want to be taken seriously as fiscal conservatives.” That would be incorrect. Democrats are fiscally responsible.

    Very few things are “always” or “never” including the moral imperatives against deficit spending. Prudent investment that includes deficit spending can be very appropriate. Winning WWII is an example, and so is getting through the current fiscal crisis.

    Bush’s increasing debt for national security would be understandable if it weren’t accompanied by two massive tax cuts that did nothing to increase productivity, an irresponsible prescription drug benefit where the real cost was hidden from the Congress and no cost controls were permitted, failure to live by “paygo” standards, and an unprecendented number of Congressional earmarks.

    The Obama administration favors spending at this time to amiliorate the fiscal crisis and to do so in a manner that invests in long-term productivity that makes it easier to pay down the costs when the crisis abates. There are legitimate quibbles about the details, but the responsible nature of this principle is sound.

  6. Jesse says:

    Todd, deficit != debt. They are separate. Reducing the deficit is great and all, but where’s the bragging rights in saying “hey, I slowed down the debt spending”? We were still debt spending. The debt still grew. It only dropped in 2000 and even then by a very small amount. You guys are as bad about Clinton as Republicans are about Reagan.

    I also don’t see the fiscal responsibility in debt spending for items that will not outlive the debt, a principle that households are expected to live by. That money has to be paid back sometime and there doesn’t appear to be any plan to do so. All I hear is talk of cutting the deficit in half. Again, we’re talking about an ever-increasing credit card balance and no plan to pay down the principle. That’s hardly responsibility.

    The Democratic Party is still strongly hypocritical with this press release.

  7. Todd says:

    Read the link:

    Based upon today’s new economic and budget projections for the coming 10 years from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB):

    The United States can be debt-free this decade. By dedicating the entire budget surplus to debt reduction, The United States can eliminate its publicly held debt by FY 2009.

  8. Jesse says:

    I did read the link, and that’s seriously weak sauce. “Hey, I didn’t have the stones to dedicate the surpluses to debt reduction, so I’ll leave it up to my successor and claim the success if it happens.” That’s pure BS and you know it.

  9. Bill says:

    Bush was a tax & spend idiot, but more importantly the leadership in Congress whether Democrat or Republican were weak kneed durring his tenure when it came to spending. I believe it is still true that Congress not the President spends the money. By my score keeping it was Newt Gingrich that needs to be given the credit for the balanced budget. I’m sure you remember the Federal Government being shut down while Clinton was drug kicking and screaming towards a balanced budget.

  10. Bill says:

    The only thing worse than Bush’s uncontrolled spending is Obama’s (actually Democrat Congress) controlled spending. As his side kick stated they wouldn’t let a good crisis go to waste. Put that budget with Tarp & the (cough cough) stimulus package and we will have quadrupled any previously recognized deficit. I guess the dems want to go back to the Carter Years of greater than 10% inflation

  11. craig41 says:

    jesse, you’re missing the point, the last year clinton was in office he maid payments towards the principle of publicly held debt. if the next year to follow suit, then it also would have paid towards the principle of the debt, and so on etc. of course that’s not what really happened, but during the clinton years we had shrinking deficits and then growing surpluses. is it possible that if left on that path we’d have the debt paid off? well, yes it is. just because we didn’t stay on that path doesn’t give you the ability to say it wasn’t possible.

    now from the link, mind you this was dec. 28th 2000, or about three weeks until we were no longer under clinton.

    “# The national debt is projected to be paid down by $237 billion this year. Under the budget President Clinton and Congress completed two weeks ago, the U.S. is projected to pay down $237 billion of the national debt in FY 2001.

    # The 4 year total debt paydown will be $600 billion. Over the last three years, we have already paid down $363 billion in debt. Therefore, The United States is on track to reduce the debt by $600 billion over four years, the largest four-year debt pay-down ever.”

    they’d paid down the debt, the had oulined how to continue. what more were they to do in 3 weeks? it wasn’t a lack of ‘stones’ as you put it, but rather a detour from that path.

    was clinton the greatest ever? well, no, he did a lot i didn’t like (probably more than todd doesn’t like), but that doesn’t really make you right to say the debt wasn’t going to get paid off. in all reality we’ll never know, due to the detour that took place during 6 years under republican rule.

  12. Cameron says:

    Did those circa 2000 projections include a recession, and the resulting drop in tax receipts?

  13. craig41bl says:

    yes cameron, many people don’t realize this, but most federal budget projections are made with a yet to be wrong crystal ball. it can only be used by a collective effort of the cbo staff on the second tuesday of march, but that’s a small price to pay for it’s omniscient predictions.

    but in reality, no, that’s why they are projections, rather than someone just telling us what’s going to happen over the next decade. if they just told us what fun would it be just watching it happen?

  14. Cameron says:

    So what you’re saying is the whole “if we had just stayed the course with Clinton we would have paid off all the debt” meme is a load of hooey. Thanks for the clarification.

  15. craig41 says:

    well, no, not at all. yes there can be unexpected events that change what you have to do with your bugdet, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been possible to pay of the debt by now.

    further, at the very least we’d be closer now, even with a recession or two thrown in. wouldn’t that be at least better than tea bagging?

  16. Cameron says:

    A recession-caused drop in revenue would require a change to the budget. Namely, a just as significant drop in spending.

    Raise your hand if you think that would’ve happened.

  17. craig41 says:

    and the years of growth before that would raise revenue, of course we raised spending way more, so we didn’t see the effect. it goes both ways. also thanks for ignoring the latter part of my comment, the we’d be closer to paying it off part. i know, there isn’t much to say to that so you just have to stick to the nu uh argument.

  18. Todd says:

    CBO’s analysis of the economic outlook has two parts: the near-term forecast (for the first two years) and the medium-term projections for the rest of the 10-year period. For the two-year forecast, CBO allows for an explicit consideration of cyclical movements of the economy. For the medium term, however, CBO does not forecast such temporary movements. Instead, it assumes a growth path for the economy that reflects the average chance of booms and recessions.

    You can read more about their economic models here:

  19. Cameron says:

    Years of growth before what? There was a surplus year, and then there was a recession. Recessions cause tax receipts to decline, which ends the surpluses. Using those surplus projections to argue that Clinton’s policies would have erased the debt is not factual.

    Now, if you want to say that Clinton would have reacted differently than Bush to the recessions, then by all means go ahead. However, the prevailing economic theory, and Clinton followed this theory, is for government to spend more during recessions rather than less. This would make the surplus even more of a pipe dream.

    As for your point that we would be “closer” to paying it off, the more accurate way to say it would be it might be a smaller balance than it is now. It would have still grown, but because Clinton wouldn’t have cut taxes during the recession it might be smaller. But that ignores the reality that tax receipts were increasing substantially during the last few years despite (or because of?) the tax cuts. It also ignores the fact that Clinton may have done what Obama is doing now- using the recession as an excuse to fill the budget and various “stimulus” packages with spending on measures he couldn’t get passed on their own merits. This of course would have increased the deficit and debt then just as it is doing now.

    I think the bottom line for me is that there isn’t a single national politician with any pull from either party that is serious about balancing the budget or paying off debt. Clinton included.

  20. craig41 says:

    years of growth before our current recession, look up annual gdp for the last decade. the recesion you talk about lasted a whopping 6 months. but i guess that’s enough to give republicans an excuse on flipping that surplus back into a deficit. i find it ironic that in bush’s first year we saw a recession, and a budget surplus, something that shouldn’t be possible using your logic. of course it didn’t last, but that was thanks to some fiscally conservative republican governance.

    also there was four years of surplus, not one (one technically falls under bush, you should be proud of that!). after those four years what happened to the economy? the answer would be that with the exception of a few quarters, the economy continued to grow. yout claim about tax revenue increasing (because of?) bush’s tax cuts, that doesn’t really hold true either, here’s a few links – tax receipts and annual nominal gdp
    note that while the economy continued to grow, tax revenue was shrinking under bush. the growth after the ominous 2003 tax cuts came not as a result of those tax cuts, but a laffer curve bait and switch. economists on the right don’t even think the bush tax cuts were meant to raise revenue.

    as for your bottom line, clinton took office looking at a 290.3 billion dollar deficit, and made that smaller each year, until it became a growing surplus, leaving a 236.2 billion dollar surplus to bush. if he did that by not being serious about paying off the debt or balancing the budget, well that’s some impressive luck.

    the point is that during periods of economic growth the debt should be paid down, which is what clinton did. then when recession sets in you have the ability to stimulate without adding on to an already huge debt. that’s not what we’ve seen here, and as a result we have people waiving their tea bags around in protest of a deficit that was ignored for 8 years, but is suddenly remembered when the other party occupies the white house.

  21. craig41 says:

    ok, i should reread and edit before i click submit. it’s hard in this little box though, anyways, sorry for the poor spelling etc. in that one.

  22. Bill says:

    Thanks Newt for being the 1 politician who gave a rat’s behind about keeping spending in check

  23. Joseph Scott says:

    I was curious about the year over year total federal debt so I did some research:


    The last time the total federal debt (year over year) went down instead of up was 1957.

  24. GMz says:

    What was that up there? It is nothing but a rant. Where are the facts or stats. There is a big difference in Dems and Reps. First of all Obama saw to it that the public funds were paid back. Second if you consider future obligations you can show a deficit in the Clinton years but if I start considering my retirement expenses right now my finances do not look too good!

    Of course if you add the same future expenses to the Bush terms it triples his deficit and there has never been a debate that he left us with a surplus.

    “So which is it, guys?” Good point and as soon as the right wing makes a decision we will still have you beat no matter which route you take!

    It goes further back than that , see the research by Professor Bartles. There is not a rich man in the country that should be voting republican as even the wealthiest 5% fair better under Democrats as history tells us.

    2009 The number of banks likely to be allowed to retire government shares indicates the Treasury will receive more than the $25 billion of repayments that the department anticipated this year. JPMorgan alone received $25 billion of TARP funds last year and Goldman Sachs got $10 billion. American Express has received $3.4 billion, Bank of New York Mellon Corp. has taken $3 billion and State Street has $2 billion.

    http://elitetrader.com/vb/showthread.php?threadid=135249 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/business/31view.html
    The table also shows that families at the 95th percentile fared almost (that was “almost” people -GMz) as well under Republican presidents as under Democrats (1.90 percent growth per year, versus 2.12 percent), giving them little stake, economically, in election outcomes. But the stakes were enormous for the less well-to-do. Families at the 20th percentile fared much worse under Republicans than under Democrats (0.43 percent versus 2.64 percent). Eight years of growth at an annual rate of 0.43 percent increases a familyís income by just 3.5 percent, while eight years of growth at 2.64 percent raises it by 23.2 percent.

    The federal government keeps two sets of books.
    The set the government promotes to the public has a healthier bottom line: a $318 billion deficit in 2005.
    The set the government doesn’t talk about is the audited financial statement produced by the government’s accountants following standard accounting rules. It reports a more ominous financial picture: a $760 billion deficit for 2005. If Social Security and Medicare were included — as the board that sets accounting rules is considering — the federal deficit would have been $3.5 trillion.
    Surplus or deficit?
    Congress and the president are able to report a lower deficit mostly because they don’t count the growing burden of future pensions and medical care for federal retirees and military personnel. These obligations are so large and are growing so fast that budget surpluses of the late 1990s actually were deficits when the costs are included.
    The Clinton administration reported a surplus of $559 billion in its final four budget years. The audited numbers showed a deficit of $484 billion.
    In addition, neither of these figures counts the financial deterioration in Social Security or Medicare. Including these retirement programs in the bottom line, as proposed by a board that oversees accounting methods used by the federal government, would show the government running annual deficits of trillions of dollars.
    The Bush administration opposes including Social Security and Medicare in the audited deficit. Its reason: Congress can cancel or cut the retirement programs at any time, so they should not be considered a government liability for accounting purposes.

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