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Posted at 9:40 AM ET, 02/28/2011

The budget battles of the '90s in two paragraphs

By Ezra Klein

Budget guru Stan Collender isn't impressed with Newt Gingrich's revisionist take on the government shutdowns of the mid-1990s, and his riposte is a nice capsule summary of what drove the budget battles -- and budget successes -- of the era:

It absolutely isn't true that, as Gingrich now wants us to believe, spending cuts were the reason congressional Republicans shut the government in 1995 and 1996. The big issue then was tax cuts rather than spending cuts as the GOP desperately tried to get back to what they considered to be the magic issue that propelled Ronald Reagan to two victories and drove George H.W. Bush from the White House...The 95 and 96 shutdowns occurred when Bill Clinton vetoed the reconciliation bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress that included a tax cut. Republicans were so angry that they refused to adopt a continuing resolution. Clinton made a big deal about the fact that he couldn't sign a CR if Congress didn't send him one and the GOP rather than the White House ended up getting blamed for it all. ...

Gingrich is also wrong that the ultimate result of the shutdowns "was the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s." There were indeed four consecutive surpluses from 1998 to 2001 and that definitely was the first time that happened since 1927-30. But the surpluses were the result of a perfect storm of positive economic news that included a huge increase in revenues from the tech bubble and the big run up in the stock markets along with low inflation and the political stalemate that made adding new spending or cutting taxes almost impossible. If you were going to choreograph a way to balance the federal budget, that would have been the way to do it.

By Ezra Klein  | February 28, 2011; 9:40 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

WTF?? The surpluses were the result of a perfect storm of the tech bubble coinciding with Political stalemate? I thought it was President Clinton's astute leadership that gave us surpluses. At least that is what liberals have been telling us for the last 10 years.

Posted by: cummije5 | February 28, 2011 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Good analysis, but Stan left out the (courageous) Clinton tax increase (derided by the GOP as the largest tax increase in history and would kill our economy) which boosted revenues and certainly helped to balance the budget (without killing the economy).

Posted by: gingles | February 28, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

I find it ironic that most modern commentators have forgotten what the real Reagon revolution was. Up until Reagon, Republicans stood first for balanced budgets, and only secondarily for cuts. Reagan's big idea was to walk away from balanced budgets and embrace deficits. He pioneered the deficit financed tax cut, justifying it with supply side reasoning that has fallen flat time and again. Tax cuts are always popular, and cuts in government services are almost always unpopular.

The current crop of tea party Republicans have forgotten half of this lesson. They still embrace deficit financed tax cuts, but they are also actively embracing big service cuts. These cuts are not likely to be any more popular in this day and age than they have ever been, and Reagan basically understood that. The current crop of Republicans are betting that today's public will support big cuts.

Maybe they will, maybe they won't. Historically, the public has not supported big service cuts.

Posted by: truthwillout | February 28, 2011 2:32 PM | Report abuse

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