SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Newt Gingrich overlooked a couple of years of red ink when he boldly claimed Thursday night that he balanced the budget for four years as House speaker. He also glossed over the fact he was not the only leader in town back in those days.
In the last debate before the leadoff Iowa Republican presidential caucuses, Gingrich persisted in repeating a claim he has made often in the campaign, sometimes more accurately than others. The latest version was particularly off the mark.
Here's how his account compares with the facts:
GINGRICH: "I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt -- pretty conservative."
THE FACTS: In the 1996 and 1997 budget years, the first two years he shaped as speaker of the House of Representatives, the government actually ran deficits. In 1998 and 1999, the government ran surpluses. Two more years of surpluses followed, but Gingrich was gone from politics by then and had nothing to do with them.
Moreover, the national debt went up during the four years Gingrich was speaker. In January 1995, when he became speaker, the gross national debt was $4.8 trillion. When he left four years later, it was $5.6 trillion, an increase of $800 billion.
To be sure, Gingrich did not single-handedly deepen America's debt, just as he didn't balance any budgets on his own. He was a driving force along with Democratic President Bill Clinton and figures in both houses of Congress in the economic setbacks and advancements of that time.