Clinton's Legacy? It's Debt Reduction, Stupid

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On the surface, he's loudly bemoaning concessions made in the ongoing budget talks. But underneath, Bill Clinton must be beaming at the prospect of becoming the President who quashed the federal deficit. Like a married couple bickering over how to spend a surprise bonus — Spend more! Save more! — congressional Republicans and the White House have spent weeks fighting over how to divvy up the nation’s largest ever budget surplus. After reaching an apparent impasse, the two sides seem to have found a middle ground: Pay off the government’s bills before talking about tax cuts or increased spending. As with all good compromises, both sides are complaining that they’ve been hoodwinked. Yet, unlike Republicans, who’ll have to explain to constituents how, despite the surplus, they failed to achieve the tax cuts, the President has quietly ensured a legacy as the miracle worker who paid off what was once seen as an unconquerable liability.

All this paints a counterintuitive picture of the last two two-term presidents of the millennium. Ronald Reagan was elected on a laissez-faire, small-government ticket, yet quadrupled the debt. Clinton, branded a tax-and-spend liberal, stands to oversee the reversal of the Reagan-era red ink. And there may yet be a bonus for the big parties, both of which are worried about losing votes to either Pat Buchanan or Donald Trump. With this fiscally conservative but socially progressive "third way" in place, many pundits may start asking: "Who needs the Reform party, anyway?"