Twelve years after leaving office, Bill Clinton is again saying that he created a surplus in the federal budget. The two most annoying things about this claim are that he knows it is not true and that people still still believe him.
I am not saying that the budget was not balanced while he was in office. Clinton likes to remind the public of the fact as often as he can. Newt Gingrich claims responsibility for the budget as often as Clinton does, but neither of them acknowledges the other’s role. The truth is, the federal budget could not have been balanced without cooperation from both of them and from many other politicians who are involved in the process.
At the time I am writing the post, Wikipedia (which I am not generally a fan of) has a rough and mostly unreferenced explanation of how the budget process works. Still I would recommend this reading to anyone who thinks that Bill Clinton is responsible for balancing the federal budget: United States budget process (Wikipedia). Any time someone tells me that President Clinton balanced the budget, I know not to expect an educated discussion about government.
So how much of a role does the POTUS have in creating a balanced budget? That depends on how much he chooses to be involved in its creation process. For the current administration, a budget is nothing more than a political statement that is not intended to be passed. The budget submitted by Obama was defeated in the Democrat controlled Senate 99-0 and 414-0 in the Republican controlled House of Representatives (Washington Times article). Based on Obama’s apparent interpretation of the budget, the POTUS is not responsible for helping to develop a real budget. This may be part of why the United States Senate has not passed a budget since April of 2009.
So the answer is NO, the president cannot pass a budget, but it just might help if he would try. The problem is that voters choose not to hold the president or other elected officials accountable. That is easy to understand from a politician’s perspective. Why would the POTUS or the Senate risk tackling a difficult national issue–one that may cost them votes regardless of the outcome–if they don’t have to?