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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 3:18 pm | Fair 67º


Mark Shields: A Look Back at Presidential Records

On taxes, the budget and jobs, Clinton and the Democrats stand out as effective economic stewards

The overriding issue of the 2010 campaign can be boiled down to the same three words that then-Secretary of State Jim Baker used in 1991 to justify sending U.S. soldiers and Marines to drive Iraqi occupying forces out of oil-rich Kuwait: “Jobs, jobs, jobs!”

Mark Shields
Mark Shields

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, the two most recent chief executives before Barack Obama, each held the White House for eight years, and each, in his first year, persuaded Congress to pass his own bold, controversial tax and budget plan.

In 1993, Clinton’s deficit reduction package was branded by the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Archer of Texas, as “the largest tax increase in the history of the human race.” Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who would shortly become the first Republican House speaker in 40 years, made this case against Clinton’s deficit-reduction bill: “The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession, and the recession will force people out of work and onto unemployment and actually increase the deficit.”

Of his own big 2001 tax cut, Bush would personally claim credit — in a re-election campaign TV commercial — for having provided “the largest tax relief in history.”

Let’s look at the respective eight-year records of Clinton and Bush as economic stewards.

From Jan. 20, 1993, to Jan. 20, 2001, the Clinton years, the number of private-sector jobs in the United States grew to 111,634,000 from 90,820,000. That is an increase of nearly 22 million jobs in the Democrat’s two terms. Gingrich has never been more wrong.

From Jan. 20, 2001, to Jan. 20, 2009, the Bush years, private-sector jobs in the United States actually fell to 110,961,000 from 111,634,000. There were 673,000 fewer Americans earning a living in a private job on the day Bush left the Oval Office than there were on the day he entered it.

Consider this: More private-sector jobs were created during the eight Clinton years than had been created during the 12 preceding presidential years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Adding in the younger Bush’s negative eight years, Clinton’s leadership — in eight years — was obviously responsible for creating more private-sector jobs than the last three Republican presidents, collectively, were able to create in their combined 20 years in the White House.

But what about the Republican Party’s “fiscal discipline” mantra? Clinton’s “largest tax increase in the history of the human race” led to the nation’s moving in just eight years to a U.S. budget surplus of $236 billion from an inherited 1993 budget deficit of a then-record $290 billion — with the nation’s two first balanced federal budgets in 40 years along the way.

But didn’t the penny-pinching Republican Congress force Clinton to toe the line on the budget? That would be the same tough-as-nails Republican-controlled Congress that Bush so dominated throughout much of the first six years of his presidency. During Bush’s two terms of tax cuts and spending sprees, the $236 billion budget surplus he inherited exploded into a budget deficit of $1.414 trillion! On standing up to deficit spending, Republicans showed themselves to be a tower of Jell-O.

Financing those big budget deficits through heavy borrowing from foreign governments and interests can potentially compromise national security and U.S. autonomy. When Clinton left the White House, China held $73.8 billion in U.S. government debt. By the time Bush exited, China’s holdings had increased more than tenfold to $746.3 billion. Debtors, as a general rule, don’t go out of their way to publicly tick off their creditors.

This year, before they tell you what they’re going to do, make them explain and defend what they did the last time.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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