As for Clinton's fiscal record, well, everyone remembers the surpluses, but no one seems to recall the etiology. Like Obama, Clinton came to town with a Democratic Congress. Like Obama (though not at the same reckless level), he introduced budgets that gave no thought to balance. He introduced a form of nationalized health care (which would have included increased taxes of $1.5 trillion over five years) and a stimulus bill. He also promised to reform Social Security (nothing happened) and vowed to reduce the growth in Medicare and Medicaid spending (on the contrary, spending shot up).
But Clinton was lucky. His health care bill failed. Congress tossed his stimulus bill into the trash, as well. And when the voters delivered a head smack in the form of handing Congress to the Republicans in 1994, Clinton began to veer away from the policies that would have damaged the economy and the country.
Everyone now recalls Clinton as the victor in the great budget wars of 1995. And while it's true that public opinion backed Clinton over Newt Gingrich in the confrontation that led to the temporary government shutdown, it was ultimately Clinton who changed course.
It was Republicans in Congress who insisted upon balanced budgets. After protesting that a balanced budget was out of the question, Clinton was finally forced, by Republican pressure, to produce one (it was his fifth budget of the year). That's how Clinton arrived at spending restraint. Clinton also reversed himself on welfare reform, finally signing (after two vetoes) a Republican reform in 1996.
Those Democrats who get goose bumps remembering the Clinton tax hike of 1993 are forgetting a lot. Those tax increases failed to yield the kind of revenue the Clinton administration had advertised. While the economy expanded during the first years of the Clinton presidency, it really took off only after Congress passed and the president reluctantly signed the capital gains tax cut in 1997.
So by all means praise Clinton -- the later Clinton, the Clinton who did many of the right things because Republicans had him in a half nelson.
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