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Wouldn’t it be awful if the debt ceiling issue were partisanized

Yesterday, the House voted against raising the debt ceiling. 100 percent of Repubs who voted voted “nay,” while a weak majority of Dems voted “aye.” It was a symbolic vote, not to be taken too seriously, as evidenced by the fact that the stock market had a good day. This stuff is way over my head, but I do subscribe to the view that if the financial markets thought there were any serious possibility of a default, there would be a meltdown.

The House held recorded votes to raise the debt ceiling four times over the past decade (they managed to raise it three times without a recorded vote.) Of the four recorded vote times, two occurred since Barack Obama became president but while the Dems still controlled the House. In those Obama-era cases, the ceiling was raised with 100 percent Dem votes in the House and all Repubs opposed. In ’02 and ’04, with George W. Bush in the Oval Office and Repubs controlling the House, the debt ceiling was raised with 100 percent Repub votes and all Dems opposed.

This data is lifted from an excellent piece, which I missed when it was first published a month ago, by Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal. Seib, documenting the partisanship of debt ceiling votes, started with this example from the Senate:

“Iowa has two Senators, one a Republican (Charles Grassley), the other a Democrat (Tom Harkin).

Each has voted seven times since 2002 on a bill to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Look back at those votes, and an interesting pattern emerges: Every time a Republican president has needed the debt ceiling raised to keep government functioning, Sen. Grassley, the Republican, has voted to raise it, while the Democrat, Sen. Harkin, has voted against it. But when a Democratic president has asked for an increase, their votes reverse: Sen. Harkin has voted in favor, and Sen. Grassley has voted against it.

That, in a nutshell, shows why it’s so absurd that Washington is headed toward a showdown over debt and the deficit tied to the question of whether to raise the national debt ceiling. Few exercises produce as much cynical and overtly partisan behavior by elected officials as do votes on the debt ceiling.”

By the way, if you want other examples of bipartisan hypocrisy, I stumbled on the Seib piece while reading a fresh post from Stu Rothenberg titled: Only Hypocrisy Is Truly Bipartisan.

But I do note that the Repubs are talking more and more often and more and more convincingly about their determination to block a debt ceiling hike unless they get what they want on spending cuts. Oops, I just looked and the markets are down fairly big so far today.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 06/01/2011 - 12:08 pm.

    The market is down because of the ADP report, apparently jobs are important.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/02/2011 - 10:43 am.

    Lora, I don’t find that explanation at all convincing. As Joseph Skar points out, the spending is all connected. And beside that, if failure to raise the debt limit *right now* will lead to catastrophe, then how does a quibble over the wording justify voting against it. The far simpler explanation is that Dems fear that raising the debt limit without fixing long term debt problems amounts to simply writing blank checks.

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 06/01/2011 - 01:48 pm.

    It sounds like this was one of the least partisan votes on the debt ceiling of recent vintage. 82 Dems in the house voted against it, including Minnesota’s own Colin Peterson. I’m assuming that means he has concerns about the overall shape of the budget. If anyone has different info, please share.
    And this was a clean vote, without any strings to blame. Can’t help but wonder if Dems that aren’t in very blue districts are getting some heat from their constituents.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2011 - 02:29 pm.

    I hate to say it, but given the abysmal level of understanding most Americans have regarding basic economics and even their own self interests, this is no time to listen to constituents who want to cap the debt ceiling as a deficit reduction technique.

  5. Submitted by David Greene on 06/01/2011 - 02:38 pm.


    According to Sen. Clyburn, a lot of Dems voted “no” due to the fact that it was a joke vote. It was a protest vote, in other words. I don’t quite understand the logic behind that either, but there it is.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/01/2011 - 02:40 pm.

    Or, be careful what you ask for;
    you might get it.

  7. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 06/01/2011 - 02:55 pm.

    House leadership should say, we will raise the debt limit when the Senate passes a budget.

  8. Submitted by Lora Jones on 06/01/2011 - 03:27 pm.

    The reason the dems voted “no” is that it wasn’t “clean” at all. Check the wording:

    “H.R. 1954: A bill to implement the President’s request to increase the statutory limit on the public debt.

    The Congress finds that the President’s budget proposal, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2012, necessitates an increase in the statutory debt limit of $2,406,000,000,000.”

    That last paragraph is simply untrue. The 2012 budget has absolutely NOTHING to do with increasing the debt limit.

  9. Submitted by David Greene on 06/01/2011 - 05:29 pm.


    Thanks for that tidbit. It cleared everything up for me.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 06/01/2011 - 09:21 pm.

    The debt ceiling debate is all a charade – although it allows Congress to force Treasury to do some extra work. The only smart vote would be to eliminate the debt ceiling vote in the future, and let the annual budget process automatically set the debt limit. But then there wouldn’t be as much camera time …

  11. Submitted by Joseph Skar on 06/02/2011 - 07:52 am.

    Lora – How would a budget that involves deficit spending, such as the 2012, budget not be impacted by a debt ceiling? I would assume we would need to borrow to fund any future obligation for which cash is not available.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 06/02/2011 - 05:20 pm.

    I think you have created a useful new verb:


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