Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has recently attacked Republicans over the upcoming vote on raising the debt ceiling, saying, “We can’t back out on the money we owe the rest of the world. We can’t do as the Gingrich crowd did a few years ago, close the government.”
Senator Reid joined Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who on behalf of the Obama administration warned Republicans that, “Failure to increase the limit would be deeply irresponsible.”
The problem is neither Senator Reid nor President Obama has any moral standing to lecture Republicans about the irresponsibility of voting against the debt ceiling, because unfortunately for them, they voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006.
At the time, Reid said:
“If my Republican friends believe that increasing our debt by almost $800 billion today and more than $3 trillion over the last five years is the right thing to do, they should be upfront about it. They should explain why they think more debt is good for the economy.
“How can the Republican majority in this Congress explain to their constituents that trillions of dollars in new debt is good for our economy? How can they explain that they think it’s fair to force our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren to finance this debt through higher taxes. That’s what it will have to be. Why is it right to increase our nation’s dependence on foreign creditors?
“They should explain this. Maybe they can convince the public they’re right. I doubt it. Because most Americans know that increasing debt is the last thing we should be doing. After all, I repeat, the Baby Boomers are about to retire. Under the circumstances, any credible economist would tell you we should be reducing debt, not increasing it. Democrats won’t be making argument to supper this legalization, which will weaken our country. Weaken our county.”
When Senator Reid was recently asked by NBC’s David Gregory about the conflict between his 2006 and 2011 statements, Reid replied, “I don’t really know what vote you’re talking about.”
Let’s see if we can assist the Senate Majority Leader. In 2006, he said and voted one way; in 2011, he said and intends to vote the opposite way. That is known as (take your pick) hypocrisy, a double standard, or a head-snapping example of intellectual dishonesty.
Then there is Senator Obama’s March 16, 2006 speech on the Senator floor, in which he described raising the debt limit in terms I suspect he wishes he’d never said:
"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. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Mr. Obama’s vote against raising the debt ceiling isn’t comparable to voting against it today because in 2006 there was every expectation the debt ceiling increase would be approved. So being “irresponsible” and intending to “close the government” is fine as long as you’re expected not to prevail?
Actually, there are two differences between the 2011 vote and the 2006 vote. The first is that neither Senators Reid nor Obama was really against raising the debt ceiling because they favored less government spending. Both were on record as opposing the Bush budgets as too stingy. They wanted more spending – except on Iraq. And because they couldn’t muster the votes to cut off war funding, they fulminated and pranced and preened on the Senate floor to burnish their deficit-fighting credentials without actually having to cut anything.
The second difference is this: Reid and Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling with no plan or higher purpose in mind. They simply wanted to score rhetorical points against President Bush.
Unlike Reid and Obama, Republicans are trying to use their votes on the debt ceiling to win important concessions on cutting government spending. In return for raising the debt ceiling – perhaps temporarily and for less an amount than the administration wants – House Republicans will extract cuts in spending. The GOP is not grandstanding, as Reid and Obama were in 2006, but instead seeking concrete changes.
For those interested, here are other Democrats who voted ‘No’ on raising the debt ceiling in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and who consequently have no grounds to criticize their Republican colleagues for doing likewise in 2011:
September 29, 2007 vote to increase debt limit by $850 billion:
Not Voting - 5
October 3, 2008: Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, $700 billion increase in debt limit