Politico Lets Bill Clinton Whine for More Credit For Welfare Reform, Balanced Budget

At the Politico, James Hohmann's biography page indicates that he is "an Honors graduate of Stanford University" who "studied American political history." I hope he skipped class during the time his profs covered the 1990s, because if not, he and many other classmates have been badly misled.

Hohmann covered Bill Clinton's commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of his presidential candidacy announcement at his library in Little Rock, Arkansas, and let the following Clintonian howlers go by without challenge:

Bill Clinton wants more credit

Bill Clinton thinks he deserves more credit for reforming welfare and balancing the budget.

"I go crazy every time I read the conventional wisdom," he said Friday night at his presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. "So part of the Republican narrative is that I was 'saved' from myself by the election of the Republican Congress [in 1994] that 'forced me' to do welfare reform and ‘made the balanced budget possible.'"

Clinton said reporters and commentators “keep saying this, overlooking all relevant facts.”

The 42nd president said Arkansas had been a test case for reform during his governorship. At the federal level, he said 43 states received federal waivers to implement welfare reform before the GOP-controlled House passed the final bill.

“And yet I kept reading how this was ‘a Republican idea,’ just because President Reagan had a good story about a welfare queen and a Cadillac who didn’t exist,” Clinton said.

The feisty comments came during 20 minutes of unscripted remarks that immediately followed a one-hour panel discussion commemorating the 20th anniversary of Clinton announcing his run for president in front of the nearby state house. They showcased a Clinton determined to present himself as a transformational figure.

The historical record shows that Bill Clinton doesn't deserve credit for welfare reform, and doesn't deserve credit for the balanced budget.

As to welfare reform, it was a Republican idea not because of what Ronald Reagan said, but because of what former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson did. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in a 2006 editorial excerpted at my home blog (bold is mine):

Reform really took off in the early 1990s as Governors, led by Wisconsin’s Tommy Thompson, took the initiative. They battled for waivers from the feds, and then one of their own, Mr. Clinton, decided to run for the White House in 1992 using welfare reform as a way of proving his New Democrat bona fides.

He quickly shelved the idea in his first two years, bowing to a Democratic Congress. But when Republicans won the House in 1994, they made it one of their priorities. Mr. Clinton declared this week that the bill he signed was a “bipartisan” triumph, and in a narrow sense it was. But 98 Democrats opposed him on the House floor, including many of the Democrats who would chair committees in the House if they re-take Congress in November. Mr. Clinton also vetoed reform twice before finally signing it in 1996 after his political guru Dick Morris told him it was the one issue that could cost him re-election. Make no mistake: This was a conservative reform opposed every step of the way by the political left and its media allies.

Exactly:

  • Media Research Center CyberAlerts at the time carried multiple examples of liberals like Charles Grodin, Walter Cronkite and others predicting hordes of Americans starving in the streets if welfare reform became law. Six June-August 1996 examples are at the top of this Google search on [Cyberalert "welfare reform"] (typed exactly as indicated between brackets).
  • Both Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton made a point of emphasizing how the bill the President had signed would need to be "fixed."
  • The fears of the status quo's defenders never materialized, and the Clintons never "fixed" anything. The welfare rolls dropped from a 1996 average of 12.3 million to less than 4.5 million in 2000. It's likely that at least 1.5 million adults entered the workforce during that four-year period who would otherwise have stayed on the dole.

As to Clinton's claim of responsibility for the late-1990s balanced budget -- first, as noted, he had to be dragged kicking and screaming into welfare reform, which saved billion in entitlement spending while adding billions in tax collections.

More crucially, it was the 1997 Republican Congress which did the heavy lifting, particularly then-Congressman and now Ohio Governor John Kasich. As the Associated Press wrote when Kasich declared his Buckeye State candidacy in 2009: "Kasich, a 9-term Congressman from Ohio, was the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Budget Committee in 1997 that balanced the nation’s budget for the first time in more than 30 years."

As I wrote at the time:

Kasich and his committee (with his senatorial colleagues) balanced the budget. Bill Clinton did NOTHING on the spending side to balance the budget except sign the related bills. What Clinton deserves some credit for is getting on board with the supply-side capital gains tax cut in 1997 that created a gusher on the revenue side — a cut passed by the GOP Congress over strenuous objections from some Democrats.

With welfare reform, Bill Clinton was a stubborn, reluctant, and self-preserving; his signature on the bill had nothing to do with anything resembling principled commitment to reform. With the balanced budget, Clinton was mostly a spectator who has basked in undeserved glory for over a decade in what Republicans created. The Politico's Hohmann either knew better and decided not to interject the truth into his report, or he didn't learn much about the 1990s when he was at Stanford.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.