Presidency of Bill Clinton

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The presidency of Bill Clinton began at noon EST on January 20, 1993, when Bill Clinton was inaugurated as 42nd President of the United States, and ended on January 20, 2001. Clinton, a Democrat, took office 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.[1]


Clinton defeated incumbent President George H. W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election

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,[2] leading to a decrease in the public debt (though the gross federal debt continued to increase).[3][4][5] 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,[6] 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.[7] He also signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act which legalized over-the-counter derivatives.[8]

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[9] and banning any job discrimination based on sexual orientation in civilian public sector employment[10] (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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13][14] 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.[15]

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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[15] 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.[17]

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.

Legislation and programs[edit]