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OUR VIEW: Clinton taxes didn't balance budget (poll)

By: WAYNE LAUGESEN
November 29, 2012
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Reporters don’t write stories that tell readers to vote for liberal Democrats, or that say Congress and the president should raise taxes. Yet the notorious liberal bias seems clear, in passages such as this:

“Congress and Obama have until the end of the year to avoid across-the-board tax increases that would do away with rates set during the administration of President George W. Bush and restore higher tax rates in place during President Bill Clinton’s administration when the economy was robust and the federal government had a budget surplus.”

The paragraph comes from an Associated Press story that ran in newspapers, including The Gazette, on Tuesday. It is true that last year’s debt-ceiling deal may result in tax hikes. It is true these increases would do away with Bush-era tax cuts. It is true we had higher tax rates under Clinton. It is true the economy was robust under Clinton and also true that Clinton signed balanced budgets.

Problem is, the AP strung together five points of fact in a manner that creates the appearance of causation. A reader of AP’s long-winded sentence may reasonably conclude that higher taxes caused prosperity and a balanced budget in the Clinton years. It’s a dangerous assumption, because tax hikes on an ailing economy are likely to cause only more economic problems for government and the economy.

To understand Clinton’s balanced budgets in proper context, we must remember that he raised taxes in 1993 and in 1995 submitted a budget that predicted multi-year deficits for years into the future. He wanted to spend more than we had. In spring of 1995, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican, said no way. He made balancing the budget a top priority as part his “contract with America.” Opponents called it the “contract on America” because of its proposal for “draconian” budget cuts.

In the budget battle of 1995, Clinton had to submit five budget proposals before he was able to satisfy Republican insistence on a path toward balancing the budget. Clinton fought Republicans every inch of the way, even admitting that balancing the budget was not important to him.

As part of the GOP crusade to balance the budget, Republican Sens. Bob Dole and John McCain co-sponsored successful passage of the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, finally granting to Clinton a tool of responsibility long sought by President Ronald Reagan. It was an effort to restore fiscal responsibility in the executive branch that was lost when Congress eliminated presidential impoundment authority in 1974. Economists cannot put a figure on how much waste the line-item veto saved because the mere presence of this check on Congressional excess probably headed off all sorts of nonsensical vote-buying pork.

Before taking sole credit for balancing the budget, Clinton used the line-item veto 82 times. The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1998.

Yes, Clinton raised taxes and presided over a balanced budget. He raised taxes on a soaring post-cold war economy, not one struggling to survive such as we live with today. He balanced the budget because Congressional Republicans forced him to. He also had veto powers President Obama lacks. The media’s effort to credit good times of the ’90s with high taxes just doesn’t hold true.

That's our view, so what's yours? Please begin or contribute to a Facebook discussion below this article.

Friend editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen on Facebook, follow him on Twitter

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