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"It's never been easy for House Republicans to raise the debt limit." With that opening sentence, Jake Sherman and Steven Sloan of Politico provided air cover for the GOP's unprecedented—and dangerously irresponsible—debt ceiling hostage-taking. After all, Republicans in both houses of Congress had no problem raising the debt limit until Democrat Barack Obama became president.

Back in March, rumors first began to swirl that House Republicans might refuse to increase the nation's borrowing authority unless it was accompanied by tax reform. (As you'll recall, "tax reform" in Republican parlance means slashing individual and corporate tax rates while supposedly closing always unnamed loopholes to avoid draining the U.S. Treasury.) Now, Politico reports, Speaker Boehner and his GOP allies are moving towards making that "revenue-neutral" reform (that is, making no impact on the national debt) a condition of boosting the debt ceiling this fall:

It's never been easy for House Republicans to raise the debt limit. [...]

Now, momentum is building to tie a rewrite of the Tax Code to hiking the debt cap, which will need to be raised by the fall because the limit will technically be hit this month. Top lawmakers and aides on the House Ways and Means Committee have quietly begun mulling over and crafting mechanisms that would attempt to "commit Washington" to tax reform over the next five months, several sources involved with the planning say.

One framework that has gained significant traction -- and has been ricocheting around K Street and Capitol Hill -- would directly wed increases in the debt ceiling to progress in tax reform.

Completely missing in Politico's "analysis" is any mention of just how radical this extortion truly is. After all, the debt ceiling has been raised 40 times since 1980. And not until Barack Obama took the oath of office did one party have both the intent and the votes to trigger a sovereign default by the United States and with it a global financial catastrophe.

Read more about the history of the GOP raising the debt ceiling below the fold.

Key to understanding the current fiscal brinksmanship in Washington is the Republican pretense that history began on January 20, 2009. As the new GOP House Majority's default threat escalated in the spring and summer of 2011, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling claimed that for Republicans raising the debt ceiling is "contrary to our DNA," Majority Leader Cantor pleaded for understanding:

"I don't think the White House understands is how difficult it is for fiscal conservatives to say they're going to vote for a debt ceiling increase."
That, of course, is complete nonsense. The debt ceiling was routinely raised 40 times since 1980, including 17 times under Ronald Reagan (who tripled the national debt) and another seven under President George W. Bush (who nearly doubled it again). As it turns out, the current GOP leadership team including Eric Cantor voted a combined 19 times to bump the debt limit $4 trillion during Bush's tenure. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP senators.)

Of course, they had to. After all, the two unfunded wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the budget-busting Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 (the first war-time tax cut in modern U.S. history) and the Medicare prescription drug program drained the U.S. Treasury and doubled the national debt by 2009. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded two years ago, the Bush tax cuts accounted for half of the deficits during his tenure, and if made fully permanent, over the next decade would have cost the U.S. Treasury more than Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, TARP and the stimulus—combined. And Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor voted for all of it.

When President Obama paid their ransom in the form of the August 2011 Budget Control Act overwhelming supported by Congressional Republicans, the GOP brass was thrilled with their successful extortion. Speaker Boehner, who has acknowledged that debt limit will have to be raised repeatedly in the years to come, declared "I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I'm pretty happy." For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gloated over the BCA and pledged the GOP would be back again and again to take the U.S. economy hostage. As he explained on Aug. 2, 2011:

"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."

Of course, slashing the already rapidly falling annual budget deficit does not have to be done, or at least not now. (House GOP leaders admitted as much in March, when Speaker Boehner acknowledged "we have no immediate debt crisis" while Paul Ryan similarly conceded, "We do not have a debt crisis right now.") But what really must be done is raising the debt ceiling. We know this, because the Republicans' best and brightest told us so.

From the moment they assumed the House majority in 2011 Republicans leaders admitted as much. The United States has never defaulted on its obligations and had never put its full faith and credit in jeopardy (especially by choice). Nevertheless, GOP leaders promised to do just that unless their demands for draconian spending cuts were met. While Paul Ryan warned that "you can't not raise the debt ceiling," the new Speaker John Boehner agreed such a failure would produce "a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy." In January 2011, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham nevertheless promised his party would do the unprecedented—and previously unthinkable:

"Let me tell you what's involved if we don't lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world. That's not lost upon me. But we've done this 93 times. And if we keep doing the same old thing, then that is insanity to the nth degree."
As it turns out, playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States is the real insanity. Meanwhile, pretending as Politico does that House Republicans have always been paragons of fiscal restraint is in no way journalism. Sherman and Sloan just needed to do a little homework or maybe place a call to Dick Cheney. After all, as the Republican vice president explained in 2002:
"Reagan proved that deficits don't matter."

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Mon May 06, 2013 at 10:35 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  While I agree that it's bad policy to use (7+ / 0-)

    the debt ceiling as a political hostage, this seems hypocritical to me:

    Completely missing in Politico's "analysis" is any mention of just how radical this extortion truly is. After all, the debt ceiling has been raised 40 times since 1980. And not until Barack Obama took the oath of office did one party have both the intent and the votes to trigger a sovereign default by the United States and with it a global financial catastrophe.
    So it was ok for Democrats who voted against the debt ceiling increase to have the "intent" to trigger a sovereign default as long as they didn't have the votes to actually do what they were voting for?  

    It seems to me that it was an irresponsible vote then, and it is an irresponsible vote now.  By voting against raising the debt ceiling during the Bush years, Democrats were adopting the notion that it's ok to vote against raising the debt ceiling based on political issues, like you think the government is spending too much.  The only difference between what Republicans are doing now and what Democrats (including then-Senator Obama) did during the Bush presidency is that Republicans now have more votes now to do what some Democrats voted then to do.

    But if it's an irresponsible position for Republicans to take now, it was an irresponsible position for Democrats to take then. "Well, I knew my position wasn't going to get enough votes" is not an excuse for taking an irresponsible position.  

    I agree that it's bad for the country to use the debt ceiling as a hostage to policy.  The budget, and budget resolutions, and appropriations bills are where things like government spending, deficits, and debt should be hashed out, not the debt ceiling.

    But I think it's completely hypocritical for Democrats to say, it was ok for US to vote against raising the debt ceiling as a political statement because not enough people in Congress agreed with us, but not ok for THEM to vote against raising the debt ceiling as a political statement because they have more people now who agree with them.  

    At least the President has the integrity to admit that his vote against the debt ceiling back then was the wrong thing to do.  I admire him for that intellectual honesty.

    •  WRONG! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      When Senator Obama voted against the debt ceiling increase, it was a purely symbolic vote because the increase was in no danger of failing. Thanks for ignoring the obvious.

      •  You are saying just what I said (4+ / 0-)

        that only the difference is that he didn't have as many votes on his side.  I didn't "ignore" that fact.  I think that to pretend that it was ok just because they didn't have the votes is hypocritical.  

        When did the Democrats say, back then, "of course, if we had enough votes to actually stop the debt ceiling increase, we certainly would change our votes"?

        •  Uh, no (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Do you not understand the concept of symbolic votes? Or are you denying that they exist? Or are you simply saying that they should not exist, and that therefore you are going to pretend that they do not exist?

          Here's what a symbolic vote is: you first verify that there are enough votes on the other side to pass the bill in question. Then you say, 'I recognize that this bill is going to pass, but I believe that we need to draw attention to some aspect of it which I find reprehensible.' And you get to make your statement, and you get to vote against the bill, all while making clear that you do recognize that the bill is going to pass.

          What you're saying, somehow, is that this is the same as voting against the bill and defeating it. It's probably a self-consistent view, but don't you think that the fact that basically nobody else in the country thinks the way you do should make you step back a little bit and reconsider?

          •  "Symbolic votes" against debt ceiling... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            VClib, TacoPie

            ...suck no matter who is voting against it.

            After all, a vote against raising the debt ceiling is essentially a vote that the federal government should renege on debt for spending that it has already agreed to.  It's a symbolic vote for the idea that it's okay for the federal government to default on its debt and obligations.

            In this particular instance, Coffeetalk has a valid point.  Voting against the debt ceiling increase when you have the power to torpedo it is worse than voting against it when you know it will pass anyway.  But the fact that the first is worse doesn't mean that either should be considered acceptable.

            The bottom line is that Senator Obama's votes against raising the debt ceiling were wrong, and were a mistake.

            Political Compass: -6.75, -3.08

            by TexasTom on Mon May 06, 2013 at 08:46:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  I think you missed what... (0+ / 0-)

        ...he wrote.  You missed the obvious.

        We Glory in war, in the shedding of human blood. What fools we are.

        by delver rootnose on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:19:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Symbolic Votes Are Only That (9+ / 0-)

      It's absolutely true that members of both parties have voted against debt ceiling increases when either (a) it was part of a larger bill they opposed, or (b) the vote would be purely symbolic because their party didn't have the votes to actually block the debt ceiling increase.

      As Harry Reid's admission shows, both sides have engaged in political posturing on the debt ceiling:

      “I shouldn’t have done that. I’m kinda embarrassed I did. It was a political maneuver by we Democrats. The Republicans were in power – there were more of them,” Reid said. “The president voted when he was in the Senate the same way. I heard him apologize for it. We all should take a look at how we handle these issues, but that doesn’t take into consideration the numerous times, the numerous times I voted to raise the debt ceiling. The one time I tried to make a political issue of it, I wish I hadn’t.”
      But the Republicans are not posturing.  They are willing to block the debt ceiling increase and trigger a global economic meltdown.  Not only have Democrats never threatened to do this, they didn't have the votes regardless.  (Harry Reid's quote shows he voted against the debt ceiling PRECISELY BECAUSE the Republicans were in power and had the votes regardless.)

      There's no hypocrisy here.  Democrats have simply never advocated or done what Republicans are once again doing now.

      •  We can agree and disagree (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MPociask, TexasTom, VClib

        We agree that Republicans now should not be using the debt ceiling as part of a political game.

        Where we disagree is that I don't think the fact that they didn't have as many vote excused Democrats back then who cast the exact same vote.  

        I agree with both the President and Senator Reid -- the Democrats were wrong back then to use a vote to increase the debt ceiling to make a political statement.  By doing that, they legitimized the notion of making the debt ceiling a political issue.  

        If you want to berate Republicans for using the debt ceiling as an opportunity to make a political statement, fine.  But it seems to me that you lose credibility when you build into that argument, "but it was ok when Democrats did it."  You would have more credibility (with me, anyway) if you took the tact of President Obama and Senator Reid -- it was wrong when they did it then, and today they are embarrassed (according to Senator Reid) by that vote.  

        •  Sigh... (5+ / 0-)

          ...I'm not berating the Republicans for making a political statement.  I'm berating them because they are willing to destroy the American economy.

          Until 2009, neither party ever held the debt ceiling hostage in this way.  Full stop.  (And now, Politico is suggesting what the GOP is doing is routine.)

          You're right that we'll have to agree to disagree on this point.

          Either way, it's been a good discussion!

          •  Brother John (0+ / 0-)

            Please stop perpetuating the myth the US Govt is like a household....namely, like all other USERS of a currency, the Govt needs to 'borrow or tax' in order to get money to spend.
            This is fundamentally wrong.  The Gold standard has been over since 1971, the Govt creates the US dollar.  The US Govt is a currency ISSUER.  Its time that you stop helping the right wing by parroting their talking points about the US Govt being 'in debt"

            MMT = Reality

            "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens

            by Auburn Parks on Tue May 07, 2013 at 05:16:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  I agree with this 100% Dems should unanimously (0+ / 0-)

      always vote for a debt ceiling increase an should introduce a bill every single session that eliminates the debt ceiling altogether.  
      In what world does cutting taxes "cost the Govt" money?
      The US Govt is a monetary sovereign, the US dollar comes from the US Govt.  Its time to accept that the gold standard has been over since 1971....there is no such thing as running out of fiat money or 'depleting the US treasury".  Please, please, please stop perpetuating this myth.  Its a right wing myth that constantly bedevils progressives.  The US Govt has absolutely ZERO need of our dollars to spend money.  All Govt spending is simply a matter of crediting bank accounts electronically.  The US dollar is not a commodity.  Lower taxes are good for an economy as they add to the (C)onsumer and (I)nvestment spending portion of GDP.  
      Our deficit is much too small right now given A) the size of the Federal Govt as % of GDP and B) private sector deleveraging that has led to our Great Recession.

      The Govt can expand the deficit by either cutting taxes or increasing spending or a combination of both.....The Govt should stop taking so much money from Americans who already make too little.  Suspend FICA 100% until unemployment hits 4%, thats an extra $1 Trillion in deficit which means an extra $1 trillion in money for we the people....the Govt's deficit is the non-Govt's surplus.  National Accounting 101.

      MMT = Reality

      "The Earth is my country and Science my religion" Christiaan Huygens

      by Auburn Parks on Tue May 07, 2013 at 05:12:15 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I mostly agree, but part of the blame has to fall (0+ / 0-)

    on Congressional Dems.  Their prior 'no votes' give just as much cover to the nonsense written in Politico.

    Dems could eliminate any such talk simply by making it party policy never to vote against a debt ceiling raise, or to make it party policy to approve of any debt ceiling raise of < x%/yr, such that all members voted for such a raise as long as it stayed below whatever percentage a year.

  •  the reason... (0+ / 0-)

    the Republicans are balking at raising the debt ceiling, other that just because it is Obama, is that they know they can roll Obama an he will give in.  Clinton, as much as I have problems with him, stood up to them and shut down government instead of killing it by slow cuts like Obama is doing.

    We Glory in war, in the shedding of human blood. What fools we are.

    by delver rootnose on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:09:46 PM PDT

  •  ”Hey, let's have a 'debt ceiling'.” (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chrississippi, efrenzy, Dbug

    ” What's that?”
    ”It's an absolute borrowing limit above which the government cannot go, and, if not raised by act of Congress, forces the country into default”
    ” Sounds a bit tricky...what if it's not raised?”
    ”Oh, don't worry, that would be unthinkable. No-one would think of doing that. It would be utter insanity.”
    ” So why do we need one?”
    ”Well, no other country in the entire world has one.”
    ”Ah. American exceptionalism.”

    -Two people who really should have known better.

    This sig is self-aware. It is not only aware that it is a sig, it is aware that it is aware that it is a sig. It is beyond meta. It is Om.

    by Freelance Escapologist on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:10:12 PM PDT

  •  politico (0+ / 0-)

    not a source for intelligent people.

    If one standardized test is good, a gazillion must be even better. -Pearson Sales Rep.

    by Desert Rose on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:16:24 PM PDT

  •  Politico's theme song (0+ / 0-)

    look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

    by FishOutofWater on Mon May 06, 2013 at 07:43:17 PM PDT

  •  If its a lie that helps GOP, its Politico. (0+ / 0-)
  •  And let's not forget that the debt limit has to be (0+ / 0-)

    raised simply to pay for the policies for which this same Congress (including Repugs) long ago approved spending.  Adding yet another layer to the absurdity of it all.

  •  Thank you, Jon Perr, for this essential context: (0+ / 0-)

    Why is our mainstream media not doing what you just did?

    We cannot begin to understand the debt-ceiling debate, until we see the numbers and history that you provide here. You've opened my eyes with this pithy, powerful diary.

    I so hope your theme and data here get wider exposure now.

    "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

    by Brecht on Mon May 06, 2013 at 08:15:08 PM PDT

  •  It’s like not paying your credit card bill… (0+ / 0-)

    Because you have an objection to increasing your debt (after you’ve already incurred it).

    Republicans are always talking about “living within our means” and “not increasing the debt” and how “the national budget is like a family budget.”

    To use that analogy, this is like telling a credit card company, “Our family voted on it and the vote was 6-4 to have dinner at Olive Garden for $200 and put it on the credit card. We like the food at OG. Then we voted on paying the bill for the credit card. And we voted against it because we want to limit our debt.”

    It makes no sense.


    According to Wikipedia (yes, I know, it’s not entirely trustworthy), only the U.S. and Denmark have a debt limit. Here’s the link: United States debt ceiling. Here’s the quote:

    The United States and Denmark are the only democratic countries to have legislative restrictions on issuing debt. The Danish debt ceiling is, however, mainly a formality; it follows the budgetting and expenditure process, allows ample scope for unforeseen deficits, and is therefore quite uncontroversial and has never been the subject of controversy as has its American counterpart.
    In other words, in every other democratic country in the world (except Denmark), if the government decides to spend money on something, they either pay for it or they borrow money. The U.S. is (almost) unique in having a debt limit.

    My opinion: If the U.S. government passes a law to spend money on something, they should pay their bills. Either by taxes or deficit spending. It's that simple. Voting on a debt limit every few years is bullshit.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Mon May 06, 2013 at 09:26:28 PM PDT

  •  Is anyone (0+ / 0-)

    still reading, let alone taking Politico seriously these days? All this story does is confirm in my mind the welcome withering away of an electronic fish wrap.

    •  I dont really see (0+ / 0-)

      Much of a point of reading Politico. I guess I catch a link here and there, but if I want any insight on DC lawmaker stuff I usually go with Roll Call and The Hill.

      I never read Politico much at all, but from what people are saying it seems mostly like the PR wing of the DC establishment "washington consensus" third way etc etc.

      Deficits don't matter, jobs do.

      by aguadito on Tue May 07, 2013 at 02:43:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You've forgotten one crucial calculation: (0+ / 0-)

    This is the Beltway Press. When Republicans do something bad, it's "bipartisan" error and "everyone does it"; when Democrats do something bad, there's not a Republican in sight.

    There are a great many otherwise-reasonable Democrats in Washington who feel the need to be accepted by the Very Serious People in the media. By now, they should know better.

    "Violence never requires translation, but it often causes deafness." - Bareesh the Hutt.

    by Australian2 on Tue May 07, 2013 at 02:52:30 AM PDT

  •  By continuing to treat Republico as (0+ / 0-)

    a legitimate news source, rather than as a clearly partisan mouthpiece for rightist Villager cant, DailyKos has become part of the beltway establishment.

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