Ballot Box

The Best of Dick Gephardt

The bravest thing he ever did.

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, and worldviews. This series assesses the story that supposedly shows each candidate at his best. Here’s the one told by supporters of Dick Gephardt—and what they leave out.

The story: “In 1993, as House Democratic Leader, I led the fight to pass the Clinton-Gore economic plan—a plan designed to slash the deficit, invest in education, cut taxes for working families, and ask the wealthy among us to pay their fair share. … Not one Republican voted for that plan. They said it was a job killer. Instead it led to the single largest economic expansion in history. It resulted in the highest home ownership ever. It forged the lowest inflation in a generation and it created over 22 million new jobs.” (Gephardt speech, Aug. 4, 2003)

Reality check: Gephardt is right about his role in passing the 1993 budget. Lacking any Republican support, he worked with Speaker Tom Foley and OMB Director Leon Panetta to keep Democrats in line. Gephardt and Panetta helped broker a pivotal deal, gaining the support of conservative Democrats in exchange for including provisions to increase congressional control of entitlement spending. They also reassured liberals who were worried about the compromise. At the last minute, Gephardt spoke on the floor to exhort the few remaining undecided Democrats. The budget passed by two votes out of 435.

Whether that budget caused the expansion, boosted home ownership, lowered inflation, and created millions of jobs is far more dubious. According to figures released by the Office of Management and Budget in 1999, the recovery from the 1990 recession started in April 1991, nearly two years before Clinton took office. Furthermore, the Dow Jones Industrial Average didn’t begin skyrocketing until Republicans captured Congress in 1994. The Dow gained just 538 points during the two years in which Clinton enjoyed a Democratic Congress. The Dow then soared nearly 7,000 points in the six years during which Clinton faced a Republican Congress. And the nation’s Gross Domestic Product didn’t starting recording annual increases of 4 percent until 1996.