Lew in ’99: Balanced Budget, Lower Debt is ‘Best Pro-Growth Strategy for Our Economy’

January 18, 2013 - 5:54 PM

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White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, nominated to be Treasury Secretary.  (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the next Treasury Secretary, wrote in an op-ed in 1999 that balancing the budget and paying down the national debt was “the best pro-growth strategy for our economy,” and that high federal deficits act like a “straightjacket” on the economy.

Lew, who was President Bill Clinton’s budget director at the time, praised the balanced budgets of the 1990s, saying that a smaller national debt would lead to a larger economy.

“The president's plan to retire such a large amount of debt is also the best pro-growth strategy for our economy,” Lew wrote in a February 1999 commentary in the Washington Post with then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

“When the government adds to private savings rather than drawing from it, more resources are available for private economic growth, higher standards of living, and increased revenues -- without any increase in tax rates,” stated Lew and Rubin in the commentary.

Lew and Rubin called high deficits “a straightjacket” on investment and economic growth, saying that the deficit reduction achieved by Clinton and the Republican Congress of the time led to economic growth.

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President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“It was less than a decade ago, after all, that massive, seemingly endless budget deficits loomed over us -- a straitjacket on our attempts to invest in the future and a symbol of our inability to meet our responsibilities. Today we are profiting from economic growth in large part because we rose to the challenge of deficit reduction,” Lew and Rubin wrote.

Deficits during the 1990’s – prior to the surpluses of 1998 and 1999 that Lew and Rubin reference – averaged $192 billion, according to figures from the OMB.

Lew, currently the White House chief of staff, served as President Obama’s budget director from November 2010 until January of 2012, overseeing the drafting of several budgets that ran deficits of $1 trillion.

Currently, the federal debt is $16.4 trillion. During Lew’s tenure as OMB Director, the debt went from $13.9 trillion to $15.4 trillion – an increase of $1.5 trillion.

Lew, in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union in 2011, said that Obama’s budgets would bring the country “to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore.”

“Our budget will get us, over the next several years, to the point where we can look the American people in the eye and say we're not adding to the debt anymore; we’re spending money that we have each year, and then we can work on bringing down our national debt,” Lew said on Feb. 13, 2011 as his first budget as OMB director was being made public.

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(AP Photo)

In 1999, Lew and Rubin wrote that balancing the budget and cutting the debt was the “best possible route” for the nation’s future.

“We believe that using our budget surpluses to significantly cut the national debt offers the best possible route to protecting future generations of Americans and the programs we depend on for a secure retirement,” they wrote.

The federal budget deficits for the last few fiscal years are published below:

FY 2012          $1.327 trillion

FY 2011          $1.3 trillion

FY 2010          $1.3 trillion

FY 2009          $1.4 trillion

“No one can guarantee that our nation's remarkable prosperity will continue. But we have it within our power to continue on the path of fiscal discipline, pay down the debt and establish a strong foundation for meeting our obligations to all who will depend on Social Security and Medicare.”