GOP, Democrats Flip-Flop on Debt-Limit Maneuver

Posted December 14, 2009 at 8:24pm

Updated: 12:33 a.m.Republicans and Democrats are in full flip-flop mode when it comes to increasing the federal debt ceiling.In 2004, when House Republicans tried to attach a debt-limit hike to a Defense spending bill, Democrats cried foul. Five years later, the roles are reversed.“It is shameful that during a time of war, Democrats are using our troops as leverage to raise the national debt limit,— House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement Monday. More than 170 House Republicans signed a letter Monday vowing to oppose the Defense bill if Democrats attach a debt-limit hike. House Democrats had been considering a hike of as much as $1.9 trillion – enough to keep the government operating through the 2010 elections – but appeared to settle on a $300 billion hike instead that would last through February, according to Democratic aides.Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said that the 2004 debt-limit fight was a different time. “What is different is Washington Democrats’ unprecedented spending spree,— Steel said. “The American people are saying ‘enough is enough’ and Republicans are listening.—The flip-flop on the maneuver is bipartisan. Democrats who then ripped Republicans for “abusing— the troops are now planning to use the Defense bill as a crutch, even as they blame the record debt hike on the economy President George W. Bush bequeathed to President Barack Obama.“We got handed this nice lemon and we have to dig our way out of this,— said a Democratic leadership aide. “They were funding a war of choice and tax cuts for the wealthy.—“Most of the debt we are incurring is because of the Republicans’ tax cuts, war and a once-in-a-lifetime recession that started on their watch,— said another Democratic aide.But in 2004, Democrats angrily attacked the idea of including debt-limit language in the rule for the Defense spending bill. At the time, nearly every Republican voted for a rule calling for House and Senate conferees to “take all steps necessary to guarantee the full faith and credit of the government— – innocuous-sounding language that GOP leaders intended to pave the way for a $700 billion debt-limit hike without holding a separate vote.Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), blocked the ploy, forcing the GOP to come back in a lame-duck session after the 2004 elections to pass it.House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.), then the ranking member, called the Republican ploy “a procedural gimmick— and “an abuse of the troops that this bill is meant to support. It abuses the troops in order to hide responsibility. It epitomizes the total lack of shared sacrifice that this administration and the Republican majority have hoisted on the American people.—Obey went on to rip the Republicans for asking for great sacrifice from soldiers while giving millionaires tax breaks and swelling the debt.“The majority is then using the Defense appropriations bill as a vehicle to enable them to continue the reckless additions to this debt brought on by those tax cuts. It is a cynical game that should shame even those who run this Congress.—Obey spokesman Ellis Brachman said Monday that Obey wasn’t objecting to the procedural move, he was objecting to Republicans asking troops to sacrifice “and asking the wealthy to take a tax cut.—Brachman also cautioned that it’s not a certainty that Democrats will include a debt-limit hike on the Defense bill, even thought House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had indicated a hike would likely be added.“Mr. Obey’s position is that we’ve passed it and we don’t need to do it,— Brachman said.Other top Democrats also blasted the Republican maneuver in 2004. Hoyer, then the Minority Whip, ripped Republicans for trying to “hide this vote because you do not have the courage to stand up and say I want to increase the debt, I want to undermine Social Security, I want to undermine Medicare. I do not want to be honest with the American public. It is called situational ethics. It is not about ethics; it is about the situation.—Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) called the maneuver in 2004 a “debacle.”“They’re afraid that if the American people hear a debate on raising the debt-limit, it will expose their failed policies and damage their chances for re-election. How cynical. How embarrassing indeed,— he said.And Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) asked Republicans, “Is there any shame left?—Republicans defended the gambit at the time, saying the debt limit needed to be increased. “I think a vote against this rule is a vote against funding the government and threatening Social Security, veterans benefits, and all of those things that we are doing right to protect our young men and women in uniform,— Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) said.One difference this time is that House Democrats are hoping to pass pay-as-you-go legislation while Senate Democrats are pushing a fiscal commission tasked with slashing the deficit.The Senate, meanwhile, could also theoretically pass a debt-limit bill the House already sent them, but that would chew up valuable floor time.