While President Obama claims that Republican efforts to tie a new debt ceiling increase to GOP budget priorities have “never [been] seen in the history” of the country, the Democratic Party has consistently battled debt ceiling increases when Republican presidents were in power.
With the Treasury Department announcing that the U.S. will reach its borrowing capacity by Oct. 17, a debate over raising the debt ceiling will likely consume the attention of Capitol Hill next month, with Republicans pushing for certain budgetary concessions in return for raising America’s borrowing limit. President Obama calls such demands unprecedented.
“You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt being used to extort a president or a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt,” Obama said before the Business Roundtable.
In fact, the Democrats of the 1980s repeatedly used the debt ceiling issue to force President Reagan not to increase defense spending. And Obama himself used the issue of the debt ceiling in his battle against President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.
In 1981, the Democrats opposed efforts to increase the debt limit and accused Republicans of “conscience-less” politics targeting the poor, according to The Milwaukee Journal.
Some Republican Senate members ultimately joined the Democrats’ call not to increase the debt ceiling. “Ignoring the Administration’s call for a bigger line of credit to enable it to pay its bills, the Senate has refused to raise the national debt ceiling to $1.45 trillion,” wrote the Pittsburgh Press on November 1, 1983, in an article titled “Senate snubs Regan, refuses to increase debt limit.”
This was not the only time the Democrats used the debt ceiling vote as leverage during the Reagan presidency to extract budget concessions.
The Democratic-led House tried to force the Republican Senate “into a compromise on military spending to trim the huge federal deficit,” wrote the Union Democrat on June 28, 1984, in an article titled “House Says No To Higher Debt Ceiling.” The House “twice rejected an increase in the federal debt ceiling needed to keep the government’s borrowing authority alive,” according to the paper.
More recently, in 2006, then-Sen. Obama used the debt ceiling as a stick to hit Bush.
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills,” Obama said [pdf] in March 2006. “It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies. Over the past five years, our federal debt has increased by $3.5 trillion to $8.6 trillion. That is ‘trillion’ with a ‘T.’ That is money that we have borrowed from the Social Security trust fund, borrowed from China and Japan, borrowed from American taxpayers.”
Since assuming power, Obama has backed off his alarmism about “foreign countries,” telling the always credulous David Letterman last September, “A lot of [the debt] we owe to ourselves.”