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Boehner Whitewashes GOP's Debt Ceiling History

September 12, 2013

This week, House Speaker John Boehner turned to a new sleight of hand trick in his latest effort to extract draconian spending cuts as the Republicans' price for raising the U.S. debt ceiling. Citing five examples from the past, the Speaker's "Fact Sheet" claimed that "Coupling efforts to reduce America's debt and deficit with increases in the debt limit is a common-sense policy that has been used under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton - and, most recently, President Obama himself."
Of course, what Speaker Boehner doesn't mention is far more important than what he does. After all, since 1980, the U.S. government has increased the nation's borrowing authority 40 times. That includes 17 debt ceiling hikes under President Ronald Reagan, who tripled the national debt during his eight years in office. That once-routine practice also featured seven increases for George W. Bush, who during his tenure in the White House nearly doubled the national debt again thanks to the Bush tax cuts, two wars, TARP and the unfunded Medicare prescription drug program. (That laundry list also featured a "clean" $800 billion debt limit jump in 2004.) And as it turns out, John Boehner along with Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Eric Cantor voted for all of it.

Of course, when it came to approving all of those debt ceiling increases when Republican President Bush sat in the Oval Office, Boehner and friends had to vote yes. They had run up trillions on the national credit card because, as Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch would later describe the Bush years, "It was standard practice not to pay for things." And as Speaker Boehner put it in January 2011, triggering a U.S. sovereign default by failing to raise the debt ceiling was too horrible to contemplate:

"That would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy."

Of course, with Democrat Barack Obama in the White House and a Republican majority in the house, that catastrophe is exactly what John Boehner is contemplating. Never in modern American history has one political party had both the intent and the votes to block a debt ceiling increase.
And if there was ever a time for a "clean" bill boosting the debt ceiling without preconditions, this is it. After all, as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently explained, after slashing $2.5 trillion from the next decade's red ink in just the past two years, the U.S. national debt as a percentage of the American economy has stabilized. (The dramatic slowdown in the rate of increase of health care costs could very well brighten the picture further.) The 2013 deficit projection is now $642 billion, half the level Barack Obama faced on the day he first took the oath of office in 2009. And with the U.S. recovery still painfully slow, the last thing America needs is any of the economic "uncertainty" John Boehner and his Republican colleagues are always warning about.
Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner seems to be standing by his 2011 threat. "The president says I want you to send me a clean bill," he sneered, "Well guess what, Mr. President, not a chance you're going to get a clean bill."
A clean debt ceiling bill is precisely what John Boehner should send President Obama. Just as other House Speakers did many times before and as Congressman Boehner gave President Bush in 2004.)
(For more background, see "The National Debt? Republicans Built That" and "15 Things the GOP Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes and the Debt.")


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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