News / USA

US Debt Ceiling Votes Invite Partisanship

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (file photo)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (file photo)
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

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech 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.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs