MEAGAN KELLY/THE HOYA Former President Bill Clinton (SFS '68) spoke in Gaston Hall Friday about his administration's economic record.
MEAGAN KELLY/THE HOYA
Former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) spoke in Gaston Hall Friday about his administration’s economic record.

Students packed Gaston Hall Friday afternoon for a chance to see former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) and a collection of his closest advisors discuss the economic legacy of his administration and its relevance today.

Sponsored by the Clinton Foundation, the groups of panelists discussed the Clinton’s achievements, including his elimination of the national deficit and the longest period of economic expansion in U.S. history that yielded the first federal surplus in over 30 years.

The discussion was designed to draw comparisons between the economic and political challenges during the Clinton era and the climate today.

“When I came here in December of 1991, the country has at that time manifestations of many of the underlying economic realities that are gripping us today,” Clinton said.

The event consisted of two panel discussions, followed by an address from the former President. The panels mainly consisted of former aides and cabinet members, whom Clinton credited with the success of his administration.

“Basically I could have had a lobotomy and succeeded as president because of them,” Clinton jested.

Former Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin offered background on the economic climate in which Clinton took office.

“He made the difficult decisions and worked unceasingly to implement the decisions he had made,” Rubin said.

Clinton was introduced by former Congressman Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.), who outlined the president’s work toward globalizing America. To cap the symposium, Clinton described his vision for the future based on the economic realities of today.

“For a country that depends on the idea of opportunity, the idea of social mobility … when we have unemployment at nine percent … It’s about more than just economics,” he said.

He attributed his administration’s fiscal success to eliminating overspending by the federal government.

“People ask me all the time, what great new idea … did you bring to Washington? And I say, ‘arithmetic,'” he said.

Clinton clarified that he believes President Barack Obama’s economic situation is worse than the one he faced in 1993.

“Our economic strategy began but did not end with getting ahold of the debt and turning around the deficit,” he said. “[However,] the particular solution we pursued is not applicable to this moment, because the problem is different.”

The former president urged the Congress to come together and work to reduce inequality and accept the role of government and the value of that role in the economy.

“We’re so concerned that we have too much government that sometimes we slip a gasket and then have to deal with the aftermath.”

The first panel discussion preceding Clinton’s speech centered on the major legislative battles fought in 1993 by the administration over a deficit reduction plan.

“The country was hurting. Washington was broken and people wanted to know, in specific terms, what are you going to do about it,” Bruce Reed, former director of the Domestic Policy Council said.

Former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Blinder described his forecasts for the economic expansion under Clinton’s policies.

“We were not forecasting a surplus in 1998. It never crossed my mind in 1993,” Blinder said. He attributed some of this unexpected success to the technology boom of the 90s.

Other panel members including former Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers Laura Tyson, former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies and former Cabinet Secretary Thurgood Marshall Jr. also recalled Clinton’s commitment to bipartisanship and the challenges of passing acceptable fiscal reform.

The second panel, chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, focused on the funding priorities of the administration and how they remain relevant today.

“He wanted to balance the budget. But he always told us, we have to balance it the right way, with our priorities,” Bowles said.

Former Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor explained the ultimate goal of the Clinton platform.

“We were going to engage the world,” Kantor said. “We are now the greatest trading nation on earth. We weren’t when he started.”

Other panelists including former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros,  former Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, former Associate Director for Domestic Policy Neera Tanden and Former Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling described their roles in tailoring policies to fit both priorities and budget constraints.

They focused specifically on Medicaid, children’s health insurance and education.

“He thought it was his job to make America a better place. He wanted to do something positive. And it was leadership,” Bowles said.

In closing, Clinton laid out one goal that he said should trump all others when making decisions.

“All that matters is whether people are better off when you quit than when you started … the rest of this will all seem like a passing experience,” Clinton said.

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