In December, Town Hall columnist Tony Blankley made a variety of false claims about the mid-1990s, including the false claim that Bill Clinton twice vetoed welfare reform prior to the 1994 mid-term elections. That didn't happen, as Blankley should know: Blankley was Newt Gingrich's press secretary at the time.
Today, Blankley has another column about his experience in the mid-1990s, and he again doesn't know what he's talking about.
First, Blankley again gets Clinton's position on welfare reform wrong:
The GOP in 1995 had three major policy objectives: 1) to balance the budget in seven years, 2) to reform welfare and 3) to pass our Contract with America 10-point plan. President Clinton opposed all three. With Clinton eventually going along, we in fact balanced the budget ahead of schedule, Clinton signed our welfare reform after first vetoing it twice, and about two-thirds of the contract was enacted into law and signed by President Clinton.
Clinton didn't oppose welfare reform. He supported it, going back to his campaign for president -- long before most Americans had ever heard of Newt Gingrich. And he didn't sign the GOP's welfare reform after first vetoing it twice -- he signed a compromise welfare reform bill after forcing the GOP to make what he viewed as sufficient changes by vetoing their first two bills. Finally, Blankley's suggestion that Clinton didn't support budget-balancing is more than a little disingenuous in light of the fact that in 1993, Clinton signed the largest deficit reduction plan in history, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote.
Next, there's Blankley's description of the 1995 government shutdown:
What the GOP House (and Senate) did in 1995 was pass very short-term funding bills (for just a few days) while we continued to debate the president regarding the larger issue of moving toward a balanced budget. When President Clinton refused to sign the bills, the government -- except for essential services -- “shut down.”
In Blankley's telling, the GOP passed continuing resolutions in good faith to keep the government running during negotiations, but Clinton refused to sign them. That isn't really what happened. In fact, the GOP attached other provisions to the funding bills (and debt-ceiling increase), like an increase in Medicare premiums and restrictions on death-row appeals.
Finally, Blankley says the GOP lost the political battle over the government shutdown in part because “the issue of deficit spending and public debt was of much less concern to the public than it is now” and that Republicans should therefore be undeterred by the lessons of 1995-96 in pursuing deficit reduction at all costs.
Nonsense. In the early to mid 1990s, deficits got a lot of attention from the media and politicians -- has Blankley forgotten Ross Perot? -- and polls suggested that deficits were a top concern:
In December 1994, the Pew Research Center found that 65 percent of Americans named reducing the deficit a top priority, compared to 64 percent who said improving the job situation was a top priority. Compare that to January 2010, when Pew found that 81 percent of Americans consider improving the job situation a top priority, and 60 percent said the same of the deficit. (Pew's 2011 report on national priorities isn't out yet, but other recent polling has consistently shown that jobs are a higher priority than deficits.)
And on September 3, 1995, as the budget battle was heating up, the Washington Post quoted one top Republican saying that deficit reduction was “what we were elected to do.” That Republican's name? Tony Blankley.
So when Blankley claims there is more public concern about the deficit now than in 1995-96, he appears to have things completely backwards.
The GOP's problem in 1995-96 wasn't that the public was less concerned then with deficits than it is now. It was that then, as now, the public cared about other things more, and rejected the Republicans efforts to gut Medicare and other government programs.
At the rate Blankley is going, it's only a matter of time before he urges House Speaker John Boehner to lash out at the seating arrangements on Air Force One, claiming that doing so worked out well for Gingrich.