News / USA

US Debt Ceiling Votes Invite Partisanship

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (file photo)
TEXT SIZE - +
Michael Bowman

In coming weeks, the U.S. Congress is widely expected to raise the federal government’s debt ceiling, thereby allowing it to borrow additional funds and service America’s $14 trillion national debt. Congress has never failed to raise the borrowing limit - to do so would be to risk default and invite financial calamity.

But few votes are more distasteful to lawmakers than going on record to authorize greater U.S. indebtedness - votes that always invite partisan sniping, grandstanding, and, this time around, hard bargaining.

Except for a brief period in the late 1990s when the United States enjoyed a budget surplus, the federal government has had to borrow more and more money to cover the cumulative indebtedness of yearly deficits. And every time the government bumps up against its borrowing limit, Congress has to step in and raise the debt ceiling.

Typically, the party in power serves as the voice of reason and responsibility, urging lawmakers to do what is necessary to keep the government afloat. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the top congressional member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, recently put it this way:

“We have no choice," said Harry Reid. "Everybody in the world recognizes that this country cannot default on its debt. We have a credit card [bill] we have to pay.”

But, for the minority party, debt ceiling votes provide an irresistible temptation for partisan bickering.

This is what Reid had to say as minority leader in 2006, when Republicans controlled the Senate. “How can the Republican majority in this Congress explain to their constituents that trillions of dollars of new debt is good for our economy," he asked.

That year, Senate Democrats voted against raising the debt ceiling, confident that the Republican majority would provide the votes needed to increase the borrowing limit and avert a fiscal crisis. Among those casting a ‘no’ vote was then-Senator Obama, who argued that raising the debt limit amounted to a failure of economic leadership under then-President George W. Bush.

Today, President Obama sees things differently. White House spokesman Jay Carney had this to say about Mr. Obama’s 2006 vote in the Senate:

“The president regrets that vote and thinks it was a mistake," said Carney. "He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote you can play around with.”

Democrats are not the only ones to flip-flop on debt ceiling votes. In 2002, Republican Representative Mike Pence of Indiana spoke on the House floor before voting to raise the debt ceiling:

“I came here believing, as so many people I represent believe, that if you owe debts, [you should] pay debts," said Pence.

Today, many Republicans are refusing to commit to a debt ceiling increase, unless President Obama agrees to deep spending cuts in federal programs long-championed by Democrats.

Congressman Pence earlier this year said, “I will not support an increase in the debt ceiling without real and meaningful changes in spending."

Analysts say there is nothing new about partisanship in debt ceiling votes. Marc Goldwein is policy director of the Washington-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

“There has always been politics behind the debt ceiling," said Goldwein. "And it is always the party in power that gets stuck with the vote, and the party not in power that blames the party in power for creating deficits that got us here in the first place. That said, that is not a reason to not use the debt ceiling to focus on our debt issues. We have to raise the debt ceiling, but we also need to start thinking seriously about our long term debt situation.”

The United States bumped up against the current borrowing limit of $14.2 trillion last month. Economists say the nation risks default if the debt ceiling is not raised by August.

You May Like

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid