Then-President Clinton acknowledges the applause of a joint session of… (Joe Marquette / Reuters )
It’s a claim that has been central to Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign: that he “balanced the budget for four straight years” when he was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s.
Now former President Clinton is calling Gingrich out, saying it’s “not really” accurate for Gingrich to take the credit for all those balanced budgets.
“I think he did work with me to pass some good budgets,” Clinton said Tuesday in an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry. “…I had a decent working relationship with him. But the vast lion’s share of balancing the budget was done by the budget in 1993 that he led the opposition to.” (Watch the video below.)
Gingrich became speaker of the House in 1995, after Republicans won control of the chamber in the 1994 midterm elections, two years into Clinton’s presidency. In 1993, the Democratic majority in Congress passed – and Clinton signed – a budget bill that raised taxes on the wealthy, cut taxes for small businesses and for the poor, and required that future budgets balance and reduce the deficit. Not a single Republican voted for that bill.
After the 1993 bill, revenues shot up.
"Ninety percent of the budget was balanced before the Balanced Budget Act was ever passed,” Clinton said, referring to the 1997 bill that Gingrich touts as a signature achievement.
Still, ever the politician, Clinton said he gets why Gingrich has embellished his record.
“If I were in his position, I would be saying that, because it is true that we worked in a bipartisan fashion to pass five budgets, and they worked out pretty well for the American people,” Clinton said.
Fact-checkers at Politifact weren’t so forgiving. They examined Gingrich’s claim that, “for four years, we balanced the budget and paid off $405 billion in debt,” and declared the statement false.
The first two budgets that were created when Gingrich was speaker – for fiscal 1996 and 1997 – did not balance. The next two years, there was a surplus.
“But that’s only two balanced budgets he can claim credit for,” according to Politifact. “The federal government did run four consecutive surpluses, but for the last two of those -- fiscal 2000 and 2001 -- Gingrich was no longer serving in the House.” Gingrich retired in January 1999.
Politifact also determined that during the four years when Gingrich was speaker, the debt rose by about $800 billion, even though the two years of budget surplus allowed the government to pay down about $200 billion of debt.
Asked whether Gingrich has the temperament and leadership qualities to be president, Clinton punted: “That’s what the presidential election is for.”
“You find out a lot about people in the crucible of battle,” he said. “…The one with the greatest resilience, with the ability to come back from adversity, will probably prevail.” Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy