Bruce Majors

Bruce Majors
Washington DC, District of Columbia, USA
December 14
Libertarian candidate for Congress in 2012. And 2014? Hobbies also include Saul Bellow, "TrueBlood," Joni Mitchel, hiking, swimming, beaches, travel, kitties and puppies, gardening, exploring new restaurants. Envy is the most common vice, and the one that motivates almost all Demwit (and many Rethuglican) policies. Y'all just hate those people who are more successful (or freer, or having more fun etc) than you. Heal thyselves!

DECEMBER 18, 2010 9:38AM

The Myth of the Clinton Balanced Budget

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Some leftovers and pro-regressives have discovered debt as an issue and now want to use it to justify increased tax slavery.


For the past 10 years they have claimed that Bill Clinton produced budget surpluses.  We always knew these "balanced budgets" involved placing major budget items (Social Security, government pensions, Medicare) off budget.


And that any movement toward control of spending Clinton achieved were forced on him by gridlock with a GOP Congress.


Much as I too look nostalgically, under Obama-Pelosi-Reid, at both Clinton and gridlock, this myth is a lie.


But it turns out Clinton also stole money from various government trust funds as "loans" to cover up his deficits:


How much surplus did the US have when Clinton left office?

U.S. National
Will the national debt push us over the falls? Find out.

Clinton ran deficits throught all 8 years of his term, and one can go to the US Treasury Department and looking through the history of the total outstanding debt throught Clintons term. ( 

Every year Clinton was in office, the total national debt continued to climb. 

How Clinton managed to claim a surplus was that while the general operating budgets ran deficits but Clinton borrowed from numerous off budget funds to make the on budget fund a surplus. 

For example, in 2000, Clinton claimed a $230B surplus, but Clinton borrowed 
$152.3B from Social Security 
$30.9B from Civil Service Retirement Fund 
$18.5B from Federal Supplementary Medical insurance Trust Fund 
$15.0B from Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund 
$9.0B from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund 
$8.2B from Military Retirement Fund 
$3.8B from Transportation Trust Funds 
$1.8B from Employee Life Insurance & Retirement fund 
$7.0B from others 

Total borrowed from off budget funds $246.5B, meaning that his $230B surplus is actually a $16.5B deficit. 
($246.5B borrowed - $230B claimed surplus = $16.5B actual deficit). 

If there is ever a true surplus, then the national debt will go down.

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politics, budgets, debt, clinton

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So bush's tax cuts, based upon the "budget surplus" were the second biggest lie of his administration. The first of course was when he took the oath of office.
Hi Bruce. I was wondering about this too. A few months ago I did a post on taxation and various social and economic rankings and in doing so, I came across the same sets of figures. The surpluses were certainly widely reported at the time and I don't recall any Repub contradicting the claim. As it wasn't just Clinton trying to rewrite history, it may be more like the odd accounting you cited.
Since the "Unified Budget" began, all revenue is one. The debt didn't go down because the operating surpluses didn't exceed the interest on the debt, even though, if I recall, some was used to pay down principle.

The myth part is that Clinton and the GOP Congress had a great deal to do with the surge of tax revenues caused by the tech boom.

However, this revenue/outlay scenario is the same for all presidents since LBJ, so the operating surpluses were unusual and noteworthy. And now -- a distant memory.

They were balanced budgets. That the debt didn't go down doesn't matter to that point, as there's a difference between debt (long term) and deficit (spending for the FY).
Paul, I'm well aware of the difference between debt and deficit. The debt is the sum of the net of all deficits and surpluses. If the debt unceasingly rose during Clinton's time, and those are the figures I found out a few months ago, it's misleading to say there was ever a surplus if you don't count interest on the debt.
It all comes down to the difference between a yearly operating cost and the overall debt. The interest is also debt, as it is applied to previous debt. Those 4 years we're speaking of did not generate new debt, so they were "operating surpluses." That is why I made that distinction previously.
I get your point, and it's valid to say the debt should shrink to consider using the term surplus. However, it did go to paying down debt, so it did shrink the principle, even if not covering the interest.
It's almost a question of semantics, but not quite.

I have a post about conservative solutions that has a debt to GDP graph. The latter 90's operating surpluses were a rolling meadow above the steep rise of the Reagan/Bush 1 debt, and below the steep rise of the Bush 2 debt.

So, operating surpluses, even as "qualified" as the term sounds...made a huge positive impact, comparatively.