“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it”
What if I told you a political belief held widely by both Democrats and Republicans (and likely you) for about 15 years was completely false? Would you continue reading or would you stop right when you got to the claim? When you get to the claim, are you going to label me an extremist and move on, or attempt to read and perhaps challenge the arguments?
I preface this article like this because this belief is so dear to many people’s hearts that it would turn their dogma upside down to find out it was all smoke and mirrors. I used to believe it myself until I took a look at the actual data.
So let's get right to it: There was no budget surplus under Clinton.
But before jumping to the evidence, why is it “known” to be a fact that Clinton had a surplus? Well the media made the surplus claim endlessly (and they never lie, right?), multiple media sources have 'fact checked' it, and even Factcheck.org ‘proved’ it to be true. So what is going on? In all cases they source the ‘non-partisan’ Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO claimed a surplus, and from then on it became gospel. Like the opening quote, after one hears something enough, they begin to believe it, which explains why political advertising continues to hammer messages into voter’s heads, incorrect or not.
The refutation proof is very simple, just look at that national debt tables. In no year of Clinton’s presidency did the national debt go down (which is a necessary and sufficient condition for a budget surplus):
The conclusion is INDISPUTABLE. I am sure there will be some people who will try to weasel out of the truth, but the fact remains that the national debt never decreased from year to year during Clinton's presidency, which is what would have happened if the government were indeed running a budget surplus. So how did the government claim a surplus? The key to the mystery here is that the national debt is comprised of public debt (where private investors give money to the government to be repaid back later) and intra-governmental holdings (where taxpayers contribute money for a future benefit and consist of obligations such as the Social Security trust, the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund, etc). To the U.S. citizen taxpayer, it is all the same and it does not matter which category the debt goes into, because regardless of the category, it is a debt liability for the U.S government that the taxpayer is ultimately liable for. Essentially, the surplus chicanery was an accounting mechanism where more money was borrowed from Social Security and the other trusts and used to pay down public debt, hence facilitating the illusion. Government debt goes up - Public debt goes down and that is what masquerades as a surplus, boys and girls.
*often incorrectly attributed to Joseph Goebbels