FACT CHECK: Gingrich sketches a too-rosy past

AP News

5/13/2011 9:20:23 AM - AP News

Republican presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich is hitching his star to the era of economic growth in the 1990s when he was House speaker, declaring "We've done it before. We can do it again." But his account of what he did before is inflated.

The economy wasn't as rosy during his time in leadership as he's claiming _ his numbers are off. And he appears to be taking all the credit for actions that were at least as much the doing of the Democratic president, Bill Clinton, as they were his own.

A look at some of Gingrich's statements about the past and the present, made in his presidential campaign announcement video this week and subsequent Fox TV interview, and how they compare with the facts.

GINGRICH:

_"And for four years, we balanced the budget and paid off $405 billion in debt. We've done it before. We can do it again." _ Presidential campaign announcement.

_"This country has an enormous potential ... to balance the budget as we did for four years when I was speaker." _ Fox.

_"We then balanced it (the budget) for four consecutive years." _ Fox.

THE FACTS: First, the national debt went up, not down, during the four years Gingrich was speaker. In January 1995, when he assumed the leadership position, the gross national debt was $4.8 trillion. When he left four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increase of $800 billion.

As for annual deficits, he did not preside over a four-year period of balanced budgets. In the 1996 and 1997 budget years _ the first two budget years he influenced as speaker _ the government ran deficits. In 1998 and 1999, the government ran surpluses.

Washington achieved surpluses for two years after that, making for four consecutive years of black ink. But Gingrich only had a hand in the first two.

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GINGRICH: "As speaker of the House, I worked to reform welfare, to balance the budget, to control spending, to cut taxes, to create economic growth. Unemployment came down from 5.6 percent to under four." _ Campaign video.

THE FACTS: When Gingrich became speaker in January 1995, the U.S. unemployment rate was 5.7 percent. When his tenure ended four years later, the rate was 4.3 percent. It didn't decline to 4 percent until a year later, in January 2000.

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GINGRICH:

_"If you really are serious about balancing the budget, you can do it. We did it.... Nobody thought we could do it when it started. We did it." _ Fox.

_"We undertook welfare reform. We brought in all the governors and we had a tremendous team effort." _ Fox.

THE FACTS: The unacknowledged partner in Gingrich's "we" is Clinton, who drove for a welfare overhaul as a defining element of his presidential campaign and claims budget surpluses as part of his legacy, too.

Gingrich's account of fiscal reformation does not mention that he cut a deal with Clinton forcing Republicans to swallow a major new entitlement, the largest expansion of taxpayer-financed health insurance coverage for children since Medicaid began in the 1960s.

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GINGRICH: President Barack Obama, "telling the Brazilians they should drill while we don't drill, is the wrong outcome.... He thinks we want Brazilian energy." _ Fox.

THE FACTS: Obama didn't tell Brazilians to drill and Americans not to. Brazil recently discovered huge oil reserves off its coast and the president said the U.S. will want to be a "major customer" of those supplies. Despite new curbs on offshore exploration after last spring's disastrous BP oil spill, U.S. oil production rose to a seven-year high last year.

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GINGRICH: "When the president spoke from the National Defense University about Libya, he cited the U.N. and the Arab League eight times, and the U.S. Congress once."

THE FACTS: The tally should be no surprise because the speech was about the multinational campaign in Libya. But Gingrich was playing on claims by some conservatives that Obama is servile to foreign interests and not a tough enough practitioner of American unilateralism.

Missing in Gingrich's remark, though, was any acknowledgment that he, too, had endorsed action by Libya's Arab neighbors, and that his overall position on Libya had flipped.

Gingrich had initially criticized Obama for not intervening in Libya, then did an about-face two weeks later, after the president had sent in U.S. war planes to support the rebels fighting the government. "I would not have intervened," he said in revising his position. "I think there are a lot of other allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces."

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GINGRICH: "I worked with President Ronald Reagan in a very difficult period. We got jobs created again, Americans proud of America, and the Soviet Union disappeared. As speaker of the house, I worked to reform welfare..." _ Campaign video.

THE FACTS: Most Republican presidential candidates _ and some Democrats _ associate themselves with Reagan as much as they can, and Gingrich certainly served in the House during the Reagan years. But in compressing his biography, Gingrich may have left the impression with those unfamiliar with presidential history that he was speaker during Reagan's presidency. The only president Gingrich worked with as speaker was Clinton. Gingrich's first Republican leadership position, as minority whip, began when Reagan left office, in 1989.

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Associated Press writers Jim Drinkard and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.