42nd President of the United States
The presidency of Bill Clinton began at noon EST on January 20, 1993, when Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 2001. Clinton, a Democrat, took office as the 42nd United States president following a decisive victory over Republican incumbent president George H. W. Bush and Independent businessman Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election. Four years later, in the 1996 election, he defeated Perot and Republican Bob Dole to win re-election. During both elections, Clinton ran as a New Democrat, and many of his administration's policy proposals reflected his centrist, Third Way thinking. He was the first president elected after the end of the Cold War, the first Baby Boomer to become president, and also the first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve two full terms. He was succeeded by Republican George W. Bush, who won the 2000 presidential election.
The nation experienced an extended period of economic prosperity during the Clinton presidency. Months into his first term, he signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which raised taxes and set the stage for future budget surpluses. He also signed into law the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade pact negotiated by President George H. W. Bush among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. His most ambitious legislative initiative, a plan to provide universal health care, never received a vote in Congress after strong lobbying from opponents such as the American Medical Association. Clinton's party suffered a strong rebuke in the 1994 elections, and Republicans took control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1950s. The "Republican Revolution," as the 1994 elections came to be known, empowered Congressional Republicans led by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to propose several conservative policies. While Clinton vetoed many of these policies, he also signed some, including the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. Disagreements with Congressional Republicans led to two shutdowns of the federal government between 1995 and 1996. In foreign policy, Clinton's first term saw American interventions in Haiti and the Balkans and an emphasis on the peace processes in the Arab-Israeli Conflict and Ireland. Clinton also appointed two Supreme Court Justices: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.
Clinton's second term saw the first federal budget surpluses since the 1960s, but this was partially overshadowed by his impeachment in 1998. His impeachment arose after he denied having an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Though the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton, he was acquitted of all charges by the Senate. In 1997, Clinton signed into law a bill creating the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which was to help provide health care coverage for millions of children. In 1999, he signed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which allowed for the consolidation of investment banks, commercial banks, and insurance companies. In foreign policy, Clinton launched a major bombing campaign in the Balkans, which led to the creation of a United Nations protectorate in Kosovo. Clinton also pursued numerous trade agreements, most notably with China, which joined the World Trade Organization shortly after Clinton left office.
Since the end of his presidency, historians and political scientists have tended to rank Clinton as an "average" to "above average" president. A 2014 survey of 162 members of the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section ranked Clinton ninth among the 43 individuals who had at that time been president, immediately beneath Eisenhower and above Andrew Jackson.
In the 1992 presidential election, Clinton defeated incumbent Republican president George H. W. Bush to become the first Democratic president since Jimmy Carter left office in 1981. Clinton took office with Democratic majorities in both houses, and attempted to pass an ambitious health care reform bill. Republicans took control of both houses of Congress in 1994 and retained that control throughout Clinton's presidency, but Clinton won reelection in 1996. The administration had a mixed record on taxes and produced the first federal budget surpluses since 1969, for fiscal years 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001, leading to a decrease in the public debt (though the gross federal debt continued to increase). Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, a major free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and he signed the agreement into law in 1994. His presidency saw the passage of welfare reform in Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children and reduced the number of welfare programs, which received support from both political parties. He also signed the reversal of the Glass-Steagall Act, an act which was designed to prevent financial institutions from getting too big to fail. He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which legalized over-the-counter derivatives.
Socially, the administration began with efforts by Clinton to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military, which culminated in a compromise known as "Don't ask, don't tell", allowing (at a statutory level) gays and lesbians to serve in the military if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. The policy remained in effect until it was repealed in 2010. Clinton became the first President to appoint open gays to his Administration, issued executive orders ending the ban on security clearance for LGBT workers and banning any job discrimination based on sexual orientation in civilian public sector employment (he unsuccessfully lobbied for the private sector Employment Non-Discrimination Act), and dramatically increased federal funding for HIV/AIDS prevention-research-treatment. However Clinton also signed the Defense of Marriage Act; while it came to his desk with a veto-proof majority, Clinton's failure to veto DOMA was considered by many to be a blow to the LGBT rights movement. Various measures were also introduced to improve the effectiveness of the social safety net, including an increase in the number of child care places, a significant expansion of the EITC program, and the introduction of new programs such as SCHIP and a child tax credit.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, the first law that Clinton signed, ensured parents could take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or a sick relative without risking their job. Over the next eight years, more than 35 million workers took advantage of the protections of this law. That same year, the Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded to give a larger benefit to working families and allow childless workers to benefit as well. In 1996, Congress passed a 20% increase in the minimum wage, which boosted earnings for nearly 10 million Americans. As part of the Clinton administration’s welfare reforms, over 200,000 people on welfare received housing vouchers to help them move closer to jobs, while a welfare-to-work tax credit encouraged businesses to hire long-term welfare recipients. In addition, communities received federal support to design transportation solutions to help low-income workers get to work. Better housing and nutritional support was provided for low-income families, with Congress (under Clinton’s watch) increasing federal support for several critical nutritional and housing support programs. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children went from average annual funding levels of $2.7 billion in the eight years before Clinton took office to $3.9 billion under his presidency, while the Food Stamp program went from an average of $21.3 billion a year to $24.9 billion. In terms of housing, funding for federal housing assistance grew from an average of $20.4 billion a year in the eight years before Clinton’s term to an average of $29 billion a year during his presidency. In 1993, AmeriCorps was established, a community service program that provided young people with an opportunity to serve their communities and earn money for college or skills training. In just five years, nearly 200,000 young people were enrolled in the program. In 1997, a child tax credit was introduced that directly reduced a family’s income tax bill by $500 per eligible child. In addition, federal funding for the Head Start program rose from $3.3 billion (in constant 2000 dollars) to $5.3 billion in 2000.
Additionally, greater funds were allocated to education. Federal funding for primary and secondary education rose from an average of $8.5 billion (in the eight years before Clinton's inauguration) to $11.1 billion. This increase was supported by the Improving America’s Schools Act, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to improve accountability in schools by helping low-income students and allowing for the incorporation of technology into curricula so every student could benefit from the technological revolution. Federal support for higher education was expanded, with the maximum Pell Grant award increased and funding levels for student financial assistance increased by 20% by the end of Clinton’s term. Also, the 1993 Student Loan Reform Act introduced direct federal student loans, leading to lower borrowing costs for students and billions in savings for the federal government.
In 1997, two tax credits were passed to help defray the costs of higher education: the Hope Scholarship tax credit and the Lifetime Learning tax credit. Federal funding for scientific research was boosted, with funding for the National Science Foundation increased by more than 30%, and the annual budget for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science nearly doubled to $2.8 billion. The GEAR UP college preparation program, launched in 1998, started to provide federal grants to high-poverty middle schools and high schools. All students within those schools were provided with services to help them succeed in school and enter college, and as of 2000-2001, 200,000 students were served by GEAR UP.
The National Institutes of Health spent approximately $9 billion a year under President Reagan, but under Clinton, Congress boosted NIH funding by 40 percent to average $12.7 billion. By 2000 federal NIH funding had surpassed $15 billion a year, a 50% increase over NIH spending when Clinton first took office, and the highest level of funding ever given for research on health and disease. To increase Internet access and reduce the “digital divide”, funding for Community Technology Centers (which were located in urban and rural neighborhoods that had little or no Internet access) was tripled. Expanded Educational technology was expanded, with the amount spent on educational technology increased from $27 million in 1994 to $769 million by 2000. As part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, “E-Rate" subsidized Internet access for schools and libraries.
Under Clinton’s direction, lenders covered under the Community Reinvestment Act stepped up their efforts, with banks and thrifts subject to CRA making $800 billion in sustainable home mortgage, small-business, and community development loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers and communities from 1993 to 1999. In 2001, the New Markets and Community Renewal initiative was passed by Congress; it invested $25 billion in new incentives for growth in low-income communities to create nine new Empowerment Zones, bringing the total created under Clinton to 40. The low-income housing tax credit was increased to build an additional 700,000 units of affordable housing, and the New Markets Tax Credit was created, which encouraged venture capital firms to support small-business startups and rural development. In addition, 40 Renewal Communities were created with targeted, pro-growth tax benefits to spur robust outside investment. As a means of creating a nationwide network of community development banks, the Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund was established. By 2000, the CDFI Fund had issued $436 million in total grants, loans, equity investments, and technical assistance to local financial institutions, banks, and thrifts, which increased their community development activities by upward of $2.4 billion. In 1999, the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act, designed to help beneficiaries of SSI who wished to work to join the workforce without losing their Medicaid benefits, was signed into law.
Clinton considered himself a "New Democrat" and was a founding member of the Democratic Leadership Council, a centrist group of Democrats, who promoted moderate social positions and neoliberal economic policies. This centrist style of government is often described as a "Third Way" between left-wing and right-wing politics, and was also adopted by Clinton's contemporary, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Clinton left office with the highest end-of-office approval rating for a US president since World War II, but he was the first US president to be impeached since Andrew Johnson (mainly as a result of the Lewinsky scandal) and only the second in US history. Like Johnson, however, he was acquitted by the Senate.
Major legislation signed
Personnel and appointments
White House – Senior staff
Senior Staff of the Executive Office of the President in the Clinton administration.
Clinton appointed the following justices to the Supreme Court:
Clinton also appointed 66 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals and 305 judges to the United States district courts. Among Clinton's appellate appointees were future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016.
First term (1993–1997)
1993 saw the start of America's first Democratic Presidency in 12 years. In his first address to the nation on February 15, 1993, Clinton announced his intention to raise taxes to cap the budget deficit. On February 17, 1993, in a nationally televised address to a joint session of Congress, Clinton unveiled his economic plan. The plan focused on deficit reduction rather than a middle class tax cut, which had been high on his campaign agenda. Clinton was pressured by his advisers, including future Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, to raise taxes on the theory that a smaller federal budget deficit would reduce bond interest rates. In August 1993, Clinton signed the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which passed Congress without a single Republican vote. It mandated deficit reduction and raised taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of taxpayers, while cutting taxes on 15 million low-income families and making tax cuts available to 90% of small businesses. Clinton's economic plan also included a major expansion of the existing Earned Income Tax Credit, aimed at working-class families just above the poverty line, which helped ensure that it made sense for them to work rather than seek welfare. John F Harris, argues that "this would prove to be one of the most important and tangible progressive achievements of the Clinton years".
The transition period and the first few weeks of the administration in the White House were full of difficulties and drama. In particular, finding someone for the high-profile United States Attorney General position proved problematic. Clinton had vowed to assemble an administration that "looked like America", and it was widely assumed that one of the major cabinet posts would go to a woman; Clinton soon decided that he would appoint a female Attorney General, something women's political action groups were also requesting. Many administration officials reported later that Clinton initially considered nominating the First Lady Hillary Clinton, herself a prominent attorney, but anti-nepotism laws stemming from Robert F. Kennedy's service in his brother's administration prohibited this. Clinton chose little-known corporate lawyer Zoë Baird for the slot, but in what became known as the Nannygate matter, it was revealed that she had hired a Peruvian couple, both illegal immigrants, to work in her home. The possibility of the Attorney General having employed illegal immigrants provoked common resentment among a large group of people, who flooded the United States Congress and radio programs. Baird withdrew her nomination and Clinton next chose Kimba Wood, who was quickly forced to withdraw due to somewhat similar problems. This led to over a thousand presidential appointment positions being subjected to heightened scrutiny for household help hiring practices, and a consequent significant slowdown in getting new administration positions filled. Janet Reno, a Florida state's attorney, was nominated for Attorney General a few weeks later, and she won confirmation on March 11, 1993.
Clinton's attempt to fulfill his campaign promise of allowing openly gay men and lesbians serving in the armed forces was the subject of criticism. His handling of the issue garnered criticism from both the left (for being too tentative in promoting gay rights) and the right (for being too insensitive to military life). After much debate, Congress implemented the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, stating that homosexual men and women may serve in the military as long as their sexuality is kept secret. By 1999, Clinton said what he would "like to do is focus on making the policy we announced back in 1993 work the way it's intended to, because it's out of whack now, and I don't think any serious person could say it's not." Some gay rights advocates criticized Clinton for not going far enough and accused him of making his campaign promise simply to get votes and contributions. These advocates felt Clinton should have integrated the military by executive order, using President Truman's desegregation of the armed forces as an example. However, some believed Clinton had faced unfair blame, and that Congress deserved the criticism. In fact, on January 27, a small delegation had visited the White House and told Clinton that if he tried forcing a change by executive order, Congress would pass a bill (with a veto-proof majority) re-writing the existing policy into law. Clinton's defenders argued this could make it harder to integrate the military in the future. Critics, however, said the focus should have been society instead of the military, claiming the military's goal was to defend the nation rather than become a "social Petri dish".
Nannygate, gays in the military, the dropping of a promised middle-class tax cut, the World Trade Center bombing, and other issues all contributed to a difficult introduction of the Clinton presidency. Clinton experienced the highest disapproval ratings at the start of any presidency since such polling began, until the later presidency of Donald Trump. His "presidential honeymoon" period was thus extremely brief.
Clinton nonetheless was able to pass major legislation in 1993, including the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993. Clinton supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, a free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico negotiated by President Bush but supported by many members of the Democratic Leadership Council. Despite opposition from anti-trade Republicans, protectionist Democrats, and supporters of Ross Perot, the bill passed both houses of Congress and came into force in 1994. Clinton also signed the Brady Bill, which imposed a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which required large employers to allow their employees to take unpaid leave because of pregnancy or serious medical condition(s). In 1994, Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a major crime bill that included an assault weapons ban, an expanded federal death penalty, the Violence Against Women Act, and several other provisions. Unfortunately, the increased spending and punitive focus of the bill caused a large increase in prison populations.
Perhaps the most prominent item on Clinton's first-term legislative agenda was passage of a health care reform plan. A task force headed by First Lady Hillary Clinton proposed the plan, which aimed to achieve universal coverage via a national healthcare plan. Though initially well received in political circles, it was ultimately doomed by well-organized opposition from conservatives, the American Medical Association, and the health insurance industry. Despite his party holding a majority in the House and Senate, the effort to create a national healthcare system ultimately died under heavy public pressure. It was the first major legislative defeat of Clinton's administration.
The Clinton-Gore administration launched the first official White House website on October 21, 1994. It was revamped three times; the third version was launched in 2000. The White House website was part of a general movement by this administration towards web based communication. On July 17, 1996, Clinton issued Executive Order 13011 – Federal Information Technology, ordering the heads of all federal agencies to fully utilize information technology to make the information of the agency easily accessible to the public." On March 9, 1996, Clinton and Gore participated in NetDay'96, spending the day at Ygnacio Valley High School, as part of the drive to connect California public schools to the Internet. In a speech given at YVH, Clinton stated that he was excited to see that his challenge the previous September to "Californians to connect at least 20% of your schools to the Information Superhighway by the end of this school year" was met. Clinton also described this event as part of a time of "absolutely astonishing transformation; a moment of great possibility. All of you know that the information and technology explosion will offer to you and to the young people of the future more opportunities and challenges than any generation of Americans has ever seen."
The 1994 elections proved disastrous for the Democrats. Republicans, campaigning on their Contract with America, took control of both houses of Congress for the first time since the 1950s. Due to the large Republican gains, the 1994 election is sometimes known as the Republican Revolution. Congress passed conservative legislation such as the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed for greater media cross-ownership, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which reduced welfare spending, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned the recognition of same-sex marriages. However, Clinton also vetoed several Republican initiatives, and a showdown over federal spending levels over the 1996 United States federal budget led to two government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996. The shutdown ended after Clinton successfully portrayed the Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, as "extreme" and "unreasonable."
In the 1996 presidential election a few months later, Clinton was re-elected, receiving 49.2% of the popular vote over Republican Bob Dole (40.7% of the popular vote) and Reform candidate Ross Perot (8.4% of the popular vote), becoming the first Democrat to serve two full presidential terms since Franklin Roosevelt. The Republicans lost a few seats in the House and gained a few in the Senate, but retained control of both houses of Congress.
Second term (1997–2001)
In 1997, Clinton finally had a chance to sign a major health care bill into law. The State Children's Health Insurance Program, passed through the efforts of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Senator Orrin Hatch, expanded coverage to approximately six-million children. Also, through the First Lady's work, childhood immunizations reached over 90% and funding for research on Gulf War Syndrome, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and asthma was increased.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, enacted by Clinton on October 21, 1998, served as the first significant amendment to the Copyright Act since 1976. The DMCA provided a framework for sound recording copyright owners and recording artists to seek public performance royalties under statute, which proved to be a landmark achievement for the recording industry.
Throughout 1998 there was a controversy over Clinton's relationship with a young White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Clinton initially denied the affair while testifying in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. The opposing lawyers asked the president about it during his deposition. He stated "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I've never had an affair with her." Four days later he also said, "There is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship, or any other kind of improper relationship." Clinton then appeared on national television on January 26 and stated: "Listen to me, I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." However, after it was revealed that investigators had obtained a semen-stained dress as well as testimony from Lewinsky, Clinton changed tactics and admitted that an improper relationship with Lewinsky had taken place: "Indeed I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible." Faced with overwhelming evidence, he apologized to the nation, agreed to pay a $25,000 court fine, settled his sexual harassment lawsuit with Paula Jones for $850,000 and was temporarily disbarred, for a period of five years, from practicing law in Arkansas and before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was not tried for perjury in a court. However, he did admit to "testifying falsely" in a carefully worded statement as part of a deal to avoid indictment for perjury.
On December 19, 1998, in the lame duck session after the 1998 elections, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Clinton. After an impeachment trial in the Senate, the Senate voted to fully acquit Clinton in a 50-50 vote; 67 votes were required to remove Clinton from office. All Democrats and five Republican Senators voted to fully acquit Clinton.
In 1999, Clinton signed the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (GLBA). GLBA repealed parts of the Glass–Steagall Act, which had prevented one institution from acting as an investment bank, commercial bank, and insurance company. After Republicans agreed to changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, the GLBA overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress. The legislation was spurred in part by the merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group into Citigroup, which the Federal Reserve had allowed under a temporary waiver.
The Elián González affair took prominent stage during early 2000. When his family fled from communist Cuba, the boy survived a boat wreck but his mother died, setting off an international legal fight for where the boy should stay. Eventually the administration, via Janet Reno, had González returned to Cuba.
Clinton issued 141 pardons and 36 commutations on his last day in office on January 20, 2001. Most of the controversy surrounded Marc Rich and allegations that Hillary Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, accepted payments in return for influencing the president's decision-making regarding the pardons. Some of Clinton's pardons remain a point of controversy. While the administration saw the expansion of the federal death penalty, which Clinton supported, and the end of his tenure he became the first president since John F. Kennedy (who had commuted the military death sentence of seaman Jimmie Henderson) to issue a presidential commutation of a death sentence when he commuted the sentence of David Ronald Chandler to life imprisonment without parole, and ordered a review of a possibly racial disparity in the application of the federal death penalty.
Clinton remained popular with the public throughout his two terms as President, ending his presidential career with a 65% approval rating, the highest end-of-term approval rating of any President since Dwight D. Eisenhower (with Ronald Reagan's approval rating at 64% in 1989, Clinton and Reagan's approval ratings are within margin of error). In addition to his political skills, Clinton also benefited from a boom of the US economy. Under Clinton, the United States had a projected federal budget surplus for the first time since 1969 in the 1998 federal budget; the budgets for 1999, 2000, and 2001 also had surpluses. As a result of this, the public debt decreased, though the gross federal debt continued to increase.
The administration took office less than two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the administration's foreign policy addressed conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti, and the Balkans. In September 1994, Clinton announced his plan to invade Haiti if it refused to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the presidency of Haiti. Operation Uphold Democracy, authorized by United Nations Security Council Resolution 940, successfully restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power as President of Haiti. In 1995, Clinton organized an international aid package to rescue Mexico from the Mexican peso crisis. The Clinton administration took a particularly active role in the Balkans, and he initiated NATO-led air campaigns during the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War. After initial successes following the election of Yitzhak Rabin in Israel and the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Middle East peace process deteriorated over time, breaking down completely with the start of the Second Intifada, and the election of Ariel Sharon. The Clinton presidency also saw the passage and signing of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 which was a bipartisan measure expressing support for regime change in Iraq. On three separate occasions, in 1996, 1998, and 2000, the administration unsuccessfully attempted to capture or assassinate Osama Bin Laden, who was eventually killed by U.S. special operations forces in 2011. In 2000, Clinton signed a bill granting permanent normal trade relations to China, and American imports from China massively increased in the subsequent years.
Clinton's presidency included a great period of economic growth in America's history. David Greenberg, a professor of history and media studies at Rutgers University, opined that:
In proposing a plan to cut the deficit, Clinton submitted a budget that would cut the deficit by $500 billion over five years by reducing $255 billion of spending and raising taxes on the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans. It also imposed a new energy tax on all Americans and subjected about a quarter of those receiving Social Security payments to higher taxes on their benefits.
Republican Congressional leaders launched an aggressive opposition against the bill, claiming that the tax increase would only make matters worse. Republicans were united in this opposition, and every Republican in both houses of Congress voted against the proposal. In fact, it took Vice President Gore's tie-breaking vote in the Senate to pass the bill. After extensive lobbying by the Clinton administration, the House narrowly voted in favor of the bill by a vote of 218 to 216. The budget package expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as relief to low-income families. It reduced the amount they paid in federal income and Federal Insurance Contributions Act tax (FICA), providing $21 billion in relief for 15 million low-income families. Improved economic conditions and policies served to encourage investors in the bond market, leading to a decline in long-term interest rates. Clinton's final four budgets were balanced budgets with surpluses, beginning with the 1997 budget. The surplus money was used to pay down the public debt by $452 billion, though the gross federal debt continued to increase. However, the claimed surplus was only recorded against public debt which was calculated with the exclusion of intragovernmental holdings. This meant that the administration was able to record loans deducted from the social security trust fund as revenue on budget reports, which accounted for the bulk of the surplus money. Calculating both the intragovernmental holdings from the public debt, the lowest deficit was $17.9 billion; in effect, the alleged surplus was, supposedly, a mere accounting fiction. The total national debt (gross federal debt) rose every year of the Clinton administration from $4.3 trillion to $5.6 trillion and from $5.4 trillion to $5.6 trillion over the years where the surplus was claimed.
The economy continued to grow, and in February 2000, it broke the record for the longest uninterrupted economic expansion in U.S. history. However, it has been argued that the strong economic growth of the late-1990s was caused by wrong allocations and malinvestments of the NASDAQ Bubble and Dot-Com Bubble, both of which came to an end in late-2001 through mid-2002. After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, Clinton vehemently fought their proposed tax cuts, believing that they favored the wealthy and would weaken economic growth. In August 1997, however, Clinton and Congressional Republicans were finally able to reach a compromise on a bill that reduced capital gain and estate taxes and gave taxpayers a credit of $500 per child and tax credits for college tuition and expenses. The bill also called for a new individual retirement account (IRA), called the Roth IRA, to allow people to invest taxed income for retirement without having to pay taxes upon withdrawal. Additionally, the law raised the national minimum for cigarette taxes. The next year, Congress approved Clinton's proposal to make college more affordable by expanding federal student financial aid through Pell Grants, and lowering interest rates on student loans.
Clinton also battled Congress nearly every session on the federal budget, in an attempt to secure spending on education, government entitlements, the environment, and AmeriCorps—the national service program that was passed by the Democratic Congress in the early days of the Clinton administration. The two sides, however, could not find a compromise and the budget battle came to a stalemate in 1995 over proposed cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment. After Clinton vetoed numerous Republican spending bills, Republicans in Congress twice refused to pass temporary spending authorizations, forcing the federal government to partially shut down because agencies had no budget on which to operate.
In April 1996, Clinton and Congress finally agreed on a budget that provided money for government agencies until the end of the fiscal year in October. The budget included some of the spending cuts that the Republicans supported (decreasing the cost of cultural, labor, and housing programs) but also preserved many programs that Clinton wanted, including educational and environmental ones.
The Clinton presidency claims responsibility for the following:
Clinton made it one of his goals as president to pass trade legislation that lowered the barriers to trade with other nations. He broke with many of his supporters, including labor unions, and those in his own party to support free-trade legislation. Opponents argued that lowering tariffs and relaxing rules on imports would cost American jobs because people would buy cheaper products from other countries. Clinton countered that free trade would help America because it would allow the U.S. to boost its exports and grow the economy. Clinton also believed that free trade could help move foreign nations to economic and political reform.
The three-nation NAFTA was signed by President George H. W. Bush during December 1992, pending its ratification by the legislatures of the three countries. Clinton did not alter the original agreement, but complemented it with the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, making NAFTA the first "green" trade treaty and the first trade treaty concerned with each country's labor laws, albeit with very weak sanctions. NAFTA provided for gradually reduced tariffs and the creation of a free-trading bloc of North American countries–the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Opponents of NAFTA, led by Ross Perot, claimed it would force American companies to move their workforces to Mexico, where they could produce goods with cheaper labor and ship them back to the United States at lower prices. Clinton, however, argued that NAFTA would increase U.S. exports and create new jobs. Clinton while signing the NAFTA bill stated, "…NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn't believethat, I wouldn't support this agreement.” He convinced many Democrats to join most Republicans in supporting trade agreement, and in 1993, the Congress passed the treaty.
Clinton also held meetings with leaders of Pacific Rim nations to discuss lowering trade barriers. In November 1993, he hosted a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Seattle, Washington, which was attended by the leaders of 12 Pacific Rim nations. In 1994, Clinton arranged an agreement in Indonesia with Pacific Rim nations to gradually remove trade barriers and open their markets.
Officials in the Clinton administration also participated in the final round of trade negotiations sponsored by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), an international trade organization. The negotiations had been ongoing since 1986. In a rare move, Clinton convened Congress to ratify the trade agreement in the winter of 1994, during which the treaty was approved. As part of the GATT agreement, a new international trade body, the World Trade Organization (WTO), replaced GATT in 1995. The new WTO had stronger authority to enforce trade agreements and covered a wider range of trade than did GATT.
Clinton faced his first defeat on trade legislation during his second term. In November 1997, the Republican-controlled Congress delayed voting on a bill to restore a presidential trade authority that had expired in 1994. The bill would have given the president the authority to negotiate trade agreements which the Congress was not authorized to modify–known as "fast-track negotiating" because it streamlines the treaty process. Clinton was unable to generate sufficient support for the legislation, even among the Democratic Party.
Clinton faced yet another trade setback in December 1999, when the WTO met in Seattle for a new round of trade negotiations. Clinton hoped that new agreements on issues such as agriculture and intellectual property could be proposed at the meeting, but the talks fell through. Anti-WTO protesters in the streets of Seattle disrupted the meetings and the international delegates attending the meetings were unable to compromise mainly because delegates from smaller, poorer countries resisted Clinton's efforts to discuss labor and environmental standards.
That same year, Clinton signed a landmark trade agreement with the People's Republic of China. The agreement, the result of more than a decade of negotiations, would lower many trade barriers between the two countries, making it easier to export U.S. products (such as automobiles, banking services, and motion pictures). However, the agreement could only take effect if China was accepted into the WTO and was granted permanent "normal trade relations" status by the U.S. Congress. Under the pact, the United States would support China's membership in the WTO. Many Democrats as well as Republicans were reluctant to grant permanent status to China because they were concerned about human rights in the country and the impact of Chinese imports on U.S. industries and jobs. Congress, however, voted in 2000 to grant permanent normal trade relations with China. Several economic studies have since been released that indicate the increase in trade resulting lowered American prices and increased the U.S. GDP by 0.7% throughout the following decade.
The Clinton administration negotiated a total of about 300 trade agreements with other countries. Clinton's last treasury secretary, Lawrence Summers, stated that the lowered tariffs that resulted from Clinton's trade policies, which reduced prices to consumers and kept inflation low, were technically "the largest tax cut in the history of the world."
Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, won the Democratic nomination in the 2000 presidential election. In an extremely close and controversial election, Gore was defeated by Republican Governor George W. Bush, the eldest son of the sitting president Clinton had defeated in the 1992 presidential election. Though Clinton and Gore had been close political partners for much of Clinton's presidency, Gore notably kept his distance from Clinton during the presidential campaign. That same year, First Lady Hillary Clinton was elected to represent New York in the United States Senate.
Authors Martin Walker and Bob Woodward state Clinton's innovative use of soundbite-ready dialogue, personal charisma, and public perception-oriented campaigning was responsible for his high public approval ratings. Historians tend to rank Clinton as an average president, although a 2015 poll of the American Political Science Association ranked Clinton as the 8th greatest president. Clinton remains popular among the general public, and a 2010 poll found Clinton to be the most popular political figure in the country.
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