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Last night GOP Candidate Newt Gingrich used his time as Speaker of the House to prove he is a conservative

“I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt — pretty conservative.”

I must admit he presents a strong argument except for one important point; its a lie.

Forgetting the fact for a moment that he was Speaker of the House not the absolute ruler  (he was only part of the process), the federal budget was never balanced during his term as speaker of the house. In fact the budget was never balanced during all of his years in the House. The last time the federal budget was balanced was in 1957, when Newt Gingrich was a 14-year-old freshman at Baker High School in Columbus, Georgia where the only budget he could have balanced had allowance money on the asset side instead of tax revenue. This balanced budget fairy tale keeps getting repeated by Gingrich and Bill Clinton, but it never happened.

The federal government has two types of debt public debt and intra-governmental debt.  Public debt is comprises securities held by investors outside the federal government, including that held by investors, the Federal Reserve System and foreign, state and local governments  Intra-governmental debt comprises Treasury securities held in accounts administered by the federal government, such as the Social Security Trust Fund.

In the years Gingrich and Clinton played together on the national stage, money was taken out of the Social Security Trust Fund to make it look like the budget was balanced.  

Traditionally the reported annual federal government budget deficit or surplus is the cash difference between government receipts and spending, ignoring intra-governmental transfers. This is a cruel trick as intra-governmental debt needs to be repaid just like the publicly held debt. This is also how Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton claim a surplus. (Source for all of the numbers below, US Treasury Direct).

Claimed Surplus
FY1997 09/30/1997 $3.789667T
FY1998 09/30/1998 $3.733864T $69.2B
FY1999 09/30/1999 $3.636104T $122.7B
FY2000 09/29/2000 $3.405303T $230.0B
FY2001 09/28/2001 $3.339310T

(Note: Gingrich resigned from office in November 1998, the resignation was effective Jan. 3, 1999)

Looks impressive right?  . These figures however, are only the public debt but not the intra-governmental debt.  Think of it as borrowing money from your brother-in-law to pay your MasterCard bill.  You may stop getting those threatening calls from the credit card people, but your brother-in-law still wants his money back.

When the Treasury department reports the National Debt (now at $15.1 trillion) it counts both public and intra-governmental debt. Clinton’s first full budget proposal in 1993, when Newt was Minority Whip. It took effect in October 1993 and concluded September 1994 (FY1994) and his last started in October 2000 and ended in September 2001. Using those bookends and subtracting each year’s national debt from prior years,  here’s the national debt at the end of each year of Clinton’s Budgets. The years shaded in grey indicate the fiscal years that Gingrich served as speaker.

National Debt Deficit
FY1993 09/30/1993 $4.411488 trillion $346.87 billion
FY1994 09/30/1994 $4.692749 trillion $281.26 billion
FY1995 09/29/1995 $4.973982 trillion $281.23 billion
FY1996 09/30/1996 $5.224810 trillion $250.83 billion
FY1997 09/30/1997 $5.413146 trillion $188.34 billion
FY1998 09/30/1998 $5.526193 trillion $113.05 billion
FY1999 09/30/1999 $5.656270 trillion $130.08 billion
FY2000 09/29/2000 $5.674178 trillion $17.91 billion
FY2001 09/28/2001 $5.807463 trillion $133.29 billion

Note in 1995, Gingrich was speaker for only the last nine months of the year and in 2000 his resignation took effect after the first three months of the fiscal, but he was involved in the planning and budget approval processes. And to fair, that last budget came very close to being balanced, it only added about $18 billion to the national debt ( I would take that today), but his claims of a surplus is just plain nonsense. During the years Gingrich says he was the only one in control of the government, our national debt rose by $981,440 (or about nine months in Obama years).

Newt Gingrich never saw a budget surplus in all of his years of public service.  One reason  this is important to note is that during the campaign you will hear Obama say that Clinton ran surpluses and Bush squandered  them.  Bush did overspend, but there was no surplus to squander because  Clinton, like Bush and Obama raided social security to make his numbers look better. The myth of  Gingrich (single-handedly)  balancing the budget and producing surpluses belongs with unicorns, elves, and Obama’s claim that no one will have to change health providers under Obamacare–in  the realm of myths. The last president to preside over a balanced budget/surplus was Dwight Eisenhower, whose government saw surpluses of  approximately $2 billion dollars in 1956 and 57.

Neither Gingrich or Clinton deserve any credit for balancing the budget in the 1990s, because it was never balanced.

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