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LOUGHREY: Road to American economic recovery
Gingrich played major role in prosperity of the 1990s
No matter what the outcome in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, the race for the Republican nomination for president truly doesn't begin until campaigning starts south of the Mason-Dixon line. That's because by late January, the barrage of negative attack ads against GOP candidate Newt Gingrich will have grown old. Voters will then begin to focus on what truly matters most: selecting the candidate best qualified not only to take on Barack Obama but to turn around our very broken economy.
Despite the rhetoric in the crowded field, only one aspirant has the resume and track record to get the job done. Mr. Gingrich once before transformed a ruined economy strangled by regulation and the Washington status quo, invoking memories of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and even Milton Friedman.
In 1990, when George H.W. Bush negotiated a budget agreement and sought to raise taxes - breaking his own "no new taxes" pledge - it was Mr. Gingrich, the minority whip, who led the revolt among conservatives in the House.
More than just slogans and conservative talking points, Mr. Gingrich has moved real numbers. The former speaker's record during his four years at the helm of the House is not only distinguished, it is arguably extraordinary.
Job creation was at historical record levels, and unemployment dropped to the lowest rate in decades during the Gingrich era. Family income surged throughout Mr. Gingrich's tenure in office and continued to rise after he resigned - in stark contrast to the remaining 2 1/2 decades, when this vital measure of America's economic health fell or declined.
If data is the most important measure, the numbers speak for themselves from the half-decade of the mid-1990s, when Mr. Gingrich presided as speaker:
- Inflation fell to the lowest rate since the Eisenhower administration.
- Gasoline prices reached the lowest levels in the past five decades.
- The stock market went up at a rate of 3 percent a month.
- Venture-capital funding went up more than tenfold, creating countless dynamic startups.
- The federal budget went from an annual deficit of $300 billion to a surplus of $200 billion.
- Federal spending declined as a percentage of the total economy almost every year, dropping from 23 percent to 19 percent of gross domestic product during the 1990s.
- Crime dropped dramatically to the lowest levels since the 1960s.
Congress actually eliminated a federal entitlement, the basic welfare program, and welfare rolls declined by one-third. In addition to keeping its hands off the Internet, Congress passed major legislation, applying free-market principles to agriculture and telecommunications, deregulating one-sixth of the U.S. economy.
Two major budget-reduction packages were enacted in the four years of the Gingrich term; just three such initiatives passed in the remaining 21 years of the past quarter-century. The American economy during the Gingrich era experienced solid, if not spectacular, economic growth.
In the 1990s, much of the common wisdom attributed these improvements to factors other than political leadership. Many analysts gave credit to the information boom led by companies such as Microsoft and Intel. However, 15 years later, the U.S. economy is stagnant, although it is home to leading technology firms such as Google and Facebook. Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was accorded responsibility for these trends by many other commentators, but his luster has been tarnished (somewhat unjustifiably) by the financial crash of 2008. Financial speculation and easy money also were cited frequently as being major factors in the 1990s boom, but both of these phenomena are present in today's economy.
Bill Clinton also should be given some of the credit for the extraordinary record of the 1990s. Many Americans, particularly Republicans, remember this era, not so long ago, when the United States was at the top of its game and are willing to bet it was not just a coincidence that Mr. Gingrich was speaker of the House.
As many Republicans go to the polls during the next 90 days in a host of high-profile primaries, we will continue to hear about immigration, health care, national defense and an array of other issues. But only one - our economy - really will play in the forefront of every voter's mind as poll-goers decide who can best handle the job for the next four years. We don't have to accept that our nation must follow the path of Europe or Japan. The playbook for recovery was written in the 1980s and 1990s by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Newt Gingrich. All we need to do is select the candidate who can enact it.
William Loughrey, a former director of the Federal Election Commission, is the author of"Political Will: Dominating Force in American History" (Scholarly and Specialized Publishing, 2009).
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