February 6, 2012
By J.J. Jackson
Just like when I hear fingernails on a chalkboard, I cringe every time Newt Gingrich opens his mouth to spout off about how he helped balance the budget during the 1990s. It is even more annoying when he claims to have done so not just once, but four times. Do I get annoyed because Newt had nothing to do with the balanced budgets of the 1990’s? Nope. It is because there never was a ‘balanced budget’ at all going back to the Republican Revolution of 1994.
It is not only Newt who loves to tell this Big Lie of a balanced budget. Former President Clinton likes to bloviate about the phantom ‘balanced budget’ as well since it supposedly happened under his tenure. Many other politicians who were in Washington at the time also try desperately to hitch their horses to this myth as they try to bolster their bona fides as being fiscally conservative.
I know that it is taken as a matter of faith that there was a balanced budget under Newt and the Republican Congresses that existed during Bill Clinton’s presidency. But the facts, as they say, are stubborn things. Back in 2005, the last time the myth of not only a balanced budget but actually a phantom budget surplus gained life, I wrote “The Surplus Fallacy.” Boy, did I get a lot hate mail on that article. Liberals accused me of making up the numbers because they were desperate to defend Bill Clinton’s legacy, have him remembered for something other than using an intern as a humidor and being Newt Gingrich’s whipping boy. So-called conservatives accused me of being a closet liberal trying to discredit the greatest achievement of the Republican Party in recent times. No one ever actually provided any evidence to dispute the numbers however. How could they? The numbers are what the numbers are. And now with Newt and his annoyingly shrill PAC bringing renewed attention to the myth of the budget being supposedly balanced at one time in recent memory, I think it is time to revisit the facts. I will not let them be slaughtered for political expedience upon some partisan altar.
Those who claim that at some point after 1994 the United States was actually running a budget surplus use a lot of not so cute tricks to accomplish this. Sometimes what they do is look at only portions of the whole budget. Sometimes they ignore non-discretionary spending. Other times they ignore interest on the debt completely. They spin themselves sick trying to justify how they can exclude all too real expenditures from the budget in order to make it appear to have been balanced on paper. But ask yourself this, in the real world where you and I live, can you really get away with not counting all debits and expenses when determining how much money you have left over? Can you ignore $30,000 on your credit card and just pretend it does not exist? Of course you cannot.
Another sly trick these people use is that they look at some select data points within an actual fiscal year. They see that on February 2, 2001 the debt owed by the United States was $5.692 trillion and that back on February 2, 2000 it was $5.702 trillion. Thus they wondrously proclaim that they had “balanced the budget”. Not only that, but they also claim to have “run a surplus.” Even sites like PolitiFact.com lie and claim that there were not only balanced budgets but mythical “surpluses,” although not as many as Newt claims. God only knows where they are getting their numbers from.
The BIG problem with that methodology though is that the fiscal year of the United States runs from October 1st of one year through September 30th of the next. When you look at the entire fiscal year you see that the debt owed by the federal government actually increased despite these not very covert accounting gimmicks. When I point this out, the first response is shock. Where did these numbers come from? Well, they come right from the Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of the Public Debt. Yep, these are not my numbers. These are the government’s own numbers.
Here are the deficits by year which the United States racked up from 1994 through 2006. To calculate these numbers you just simply subtract the later year’s debt from the previous year’s debt.
From 10/1/1993 through 9/30/1994: $286,410,336,579.85
From 10/1/1994 through 9/30/1995: $281,232,990,696.07
From 10/1/1995 through 9/30/1996: $250,828,038,426.34
From 10/1/1996 through 9/30/1997: $188,335,072,261.61
From 10/1/1997 through 9/30/1998: $113,046,997,500.28
From 10/1/1998 through 9/30/1999: $130,077,892,735.81
From 10/1/1999 through 9/30/2000: $17,907,308,253.43
From 10/1/2000 through 9/30/2001: $133,285,202,313.20
From 10/1/2001 through 9/30/2002: $420,772,553,397.10
From 10/1/2002 through 9/30/2003: $554,995,097,146.46
From 10/1/2003 through 9/30/2004: $595,821,633,586.70
From 10/1/2004 through 9/30/2005: $553,656,965,393.18
From 10/1/2005 through 9/30/2006: $574,264,237,491.73
Now, who wants to show me where in there, anywhere, is a “balanced budget” or a “budget surplus”? How is red ink a balanced anything or a surplus something else? I know the myth of the balanced budget plays well. I know Newt and Clinton love to tell it. But it is still a myth. And when you tell this lie you are a liar plain and simple. You might as well be trying to court the Big Foot vote with something this transparently untrue.