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One day after New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman described Republican brinksmanship on the debt ceiling as "hostage-taking," President Obama used his Monday press conference to declare, "They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy." But you don't have to take their word for it that the GOP is holding the U.S. economy captive with its unprecedented refusal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. Just listen to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in August 2011 crowed that the debt ceiling is "a hostage that's worth ransoming."

Nevertheless, the kamikaze conservatives who would sink the American ship of state if their demands for draconian spending cuts are not met are pretending that Republican willingness to trigger the first-ever U.S. default is no different than past no votes of individual Democratic senators. But as the likes of Karl Rove and Byron York well know, in 2004 and 2006 Republicans had a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Put another way, Democrats not only didn't threaten to block a debt ceiling increase, they didn't have the numbers to do it.

Of course, you wouldn't know that by reading the recent screeds of Karl Rove:

"There may be no person in America with less moral authority than Mr. Obama on this issue. Six years ago he led a Democratic effort to defeat a $781 billion debt-ceiling increase."
On Saturday, Rove's reliable water-carrier Byron York echoed the same point about that 2006 debt limit hike. "Declaring themselves outraged by such spending, Reid, Durbin, Schumer, and Murray all voted against raising the debt limit. So did every other Democrat—including Sen. Barack Obama." York went on to note:
In the summer of 2011, during the last debt ceiling fight, Reid conceded his '06 vote was all about politics. "I shouldn't have done that," he told ABC's Jonathan Karl. "I'm kind of embarrassed I did. It was a political maneuver by we Democrats."
But York left out Reid's next sentence from that ABC interview:
"The Republicans were in power - there were more of them."
And that difference makes all the difference.

(Continue reading below the fold.)

Republicans in 2006 enjoyed majorities in both the House (232-203) and the Senate (55-45). As Reid rightly pointed out, "The Republicans were in power—there were more of them." To be sure, Democrats were trying to score political points at President Bush's expense. But there were no threats, no filibusters and no risk to the full faith and credit of the United States.

Which is what makes the GOP's hostage-taking so unique. Whether motivated by opposition to larger spending or tax legislation, or as a symbolic vote to embarrass the president and his Congressional majority (as Sens. Obama and Reid did in 2006), the 40 debt ceiling increases since 1980 have rarely been unanimous. But never before has the threat to block a debt limit increase been coupled with one party's intent and ability to actually do it. After all, while Republican Speaker John Boehner has the numbers to deny a debt ceiling increase in the House, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can prevent it from even coming to a vote. Of course, when George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office, GOP leaders including Boehner, McConnell, Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and John Cornyn didn't just vote for seven increases in the debt ceiling. In November 2004, they all voted for the very kind of "clean" debt ceiling bill they refuse to offer President Obama now.

After having increases the national debt by 40 percent since his inauguration in January 2001, President George W. Bush in October 2004 called for his fourth hike in the nation's borrowing authority. His Treasury Secretary John Snow warned, "Given current projections, it is imperative that the Congress take action to increase the debt limit by mid-November," adding that his arsenal of fiscal tools, including tapping money intended for the civil service retirement fund, "will be exhausted."

But as the New York Times explained on November 17, 2004, Bush had to wait for his debt ceiling increase for a very simple reason:

Though an increase in the debt ceiling was never in doubt, Republican leaders in both houses of Congress postponed action on it last month, until after the elections, to deprive Democrats of a chance to accuse them of fiscal irresponsibility.

With his reelection safely secured, Republicans delivered Bush's debt ceiling increase in a stand-alone bill, with no conditions, no threats and no poison pills. By 52-44 in the Senate and 208-204 in the House, Republicans led Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) boosted the borrowing limit from $7.4 trillion to $8.2 trillion. Over 100 current Republican members of Congress voted "aye." Among them were the today's top two Senate Republicans (Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn) and the entire House leadership team (Boehner, Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan).

And just why did President Bush and his allies insist that 11 percent increase was needed?

Administration officials contend that the annual deficits are undesirable but necessary to help stimulate an economic recovery and fight a global war on terrorism.
As Speaker Hastert's spokesman John Feehery put it just before the House vote:
"We have an obligation to keep the government in operation."
In their rare moments of candor, Republican leaders acknowledge as much. Failure to raise the debt limit, Speaker John Boehner cautioned in January 2011, "would be a financial disaster, not only for our country but for the worldwide economy." Paul Ryan, whose 2012 House GOP budget would add $6 trillion in new red ink over the next decade, agreed that "you can't not raise the debt ceiling." Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly demanded Obama "man up" on spending cuts, explained why:
"Let me tell you what's involved if we don't lift the debt ceiling: financial collapse and calamity throughout the world. That's not lost upon me. But we've done this 93 times. And if we keep doing the same old thing, then that is insanity to the nth degree."
Apparently, that "same old thing" doesn't apply when a Republican is sitting in the Oval Office. It's not just that Ronald Reagan presided over 17 debt limit hikes and a tripling of the national debt during his eight years in the White House or that President George W. Bush nearly doubled it again. The end-of-decade $5.6 trillion surplus forecast by the Congressional Budget Office in 2000 was more than eviscerated by two unfunded wars, two rounds of Bush tax cuts, the unpaid-for Medicare prescription drug benefit and the TARP bank bailout. To accommodate those "spend and not tax" policies, Bush and his GOP allies in Congress voted seven times to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. (That vote tally included a "clean" debt ceiling increase in 2004, backed by 98 current House Republicans and 31 sitting GOP senators.) And as it turns out, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) voted for all of it.

During the GOP's first debt ceiling hostage-taking in the summer of 2011, U.S. consumer confidence plunged and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost while Uncle Sam racked up almost $2 billion in unnecessary interest payments. As for the uncertainty and credit rating downgrade the debt ceiling debacle produced, S&P pointed the finger at the GOP, the only party willing to countenance a default by the United States:

A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default -- a position put forth by some Republicans. Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said. "That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."

That's exactly right. That kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns and unheard of among Democrats. But among Republican leaders, holding the American economy hostage is just another day at the office. After his first round of debt limit extortion, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted in August 2011:

"I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting," he said. "Most of us didn't think that. What we did learn is this -- it's a hostage that's worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done."
And as he later explained to CNBC's Larry Kudlow, McConnell's future hostage-taking isn't a threat, but a promise:
"What we have done, Larry, also is set a new template. In the future, any president, this one or another one, when they request us to raise the debt ceiling, it will not be clean anymore. This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order."
A new template, indeed. Because while the minority party in Congress has often voted against debt ceiling increases, it never had the either the numbers or the intent to blackmail the president. Until, that is, Democrat Barack Obama entered the Oval Office.

Originally posted to Jon Perr on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:30 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's not a hostage taking if you don't pose any (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Intheknow, jfromga, createpeace

    risk to said hostage.  The Dems could never stop the debt ceiling from being raised - they just forced the GOP to own it all.  Pres Obama has said - give me the sole power to raise it and you can score all the political points off it you want - but the GOP won't do that either.  

    "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness" -Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

    by Jacoby Jonze on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:37:42 AM PST

  •  If you are in the majority- you need to lead (0+ / 0-)

    period!!!!

    They are equating a minority opposition vote to
    the stance now taken by the majority party in the House.

    Perhaps we should ask the Rethugs in the House if they would consider abdicating the majority if they don't care to lead.

  •  Reid didn't force 60 votes... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TexasTom

    He could have did that if he really wanted to block it and take it as a hostage.  

    "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness" -Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

    by Jacoby Jonze on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 11:59:00 AM PST

  •  I think the President has recognized that 2011.... (3+ / 0-)

    was a mistake and he never should have agreed to negotiate with the GOP over raising the debt ceiling.

    He got several wins from those negotiations (DADT repeal, Unemployment extension, etc) but in the long run it set a very damaging precedent.  It cost the country billions more in interest, down-grading of the credit rating, lost jobs, and only encouraged economic terrorists and traitors to continue government by crises.

    I take Obama at his word.  His intention is not to negotiate at all with the GOP over this.  For this to work, they need to hear only crickets from the White House over demands for "talks".

    Its a gutsy move, but it is one Obama can win only by being willing to see it out to the last and not backing down.   That is always the great risk when dealing with hostage takers; the only way to stop hostage taking is by being willing to lose the hostage.

    Tax and Spend I can understand. I can even understand Borrow and Spend. But Borrow and give Billionaires tax cuts? That I have a problem with.

    by LiberalCanuck on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 05:54:08 AM PST

  •  Gotta jot this down (2+ / 0-)

    So, it's OK to vote against something if your intent is simply to embarrass the opposition. Good to know.

    Does that also mean that the things Obama actually said in course of this meaningless, (deliberately?) ineffective opposition were things that he did not believe, but just made up because he had to say something?

    So, he only pretended to think that "raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure." He was just faking when said that, "This rising debt is a hidden domestic enemy, robbing our cities and States of critical investments in infrastructure like bridges, ports, and levees; robbing our families and our children of critical investments in education and health care reform; robbing our seniors of the retirement and health security they have counted on." And he was just kidding when he thought it mattered that, "..it took 42 Presidents 224 years to run up only $1 trillion of foreign-held debt. This administration did more than that in just 5 years." And it was probably just a flat-out lie (for political theatrics, you understand) when he claimed that "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.
    I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit."

    Just kidding. Ignore that man on the Senate floor.

    •  read the diary (0+ / 0-)

      before you spout off with teabagger bullshit.  Who was in power?

      •  Surprisingly (0+ / 0-)

        a) I read the diary
        b) "does not match my opinion" ≠ "teabagger"
        c) who was in power has nothing to do with the principle espoused.

        When all is said and done, the diarist's position appears to be that, had the opposition of Obama et al. to raising the debt ceiling been effective, it would have been a terrible thing. This is, IMO, a foolish position. For Obama, it seems to result in one of the following characterizations.

        He believed what he said, but would never and should never have said it if it had any possibility of being acted on.

        He believed what he said, but didn't understand its implications.

        He didn't believe what he said; his only intention was to embarrass the Republicans.

        Now, all we need to do is to figure out which of these is the case and then, knowing how he uses his words, to apply that understanding to the things he says now.

        BTW, I can't help but notice your lack of comment on whether what Mr. Obama said was true. For myself, it was speeches such as that which gave me confidence, now much vitiated, that Obama might be a good steward of the economy.

    •  Yes (0+ / 0-)

      Yes - amazingly enough a politician was attempting to score political points by lying about his position on something, then switching to the opposite position when he had to.

    •  Debt ceiling (0+ / 0-)

      The debt ceiling was being raised by the Bush administration (repeatedly) to pay for things that were harmful to the country.  This includes illegal wars (see Iraq) and tax cuts that should never have happened.  Voting against this made sense, both as a political statement, and as a fiscal statement.  this is not why the Repubs are trying to take this hostage.

  •  Pres Obama needs to use the bully pulpit (0+ / 0-)

    to full effect if he wants to win this frame war.  He needs to use his inauguration address to reiterate how "America pays it's debts, and explain that the debt ceiling is paying for money already spent by Congress, and how America isn't a "deadbeat nation".  I'd also like to see some pushback from Obama WH and Dems by pointing out that The Ryan Budget that all the GOP voted for would have needed a bigger debt ceiling raise than the ones they're blocking now.  

    It needs to be a total ful court press for the next month and a half.    

    After the inauguration, he has the traditional Superbowl interview in the first Sunday of February where he can push the need for a clean debt ceiling raise.  Than come the 15th he delivers the State of the Union Address where he can really attack on the matter, which will be a week before the default, if not mere days.  

    "The world is made for people who aren't cursed with self awareness" -Annie Savoy (Bull Durham)

    by Jacoby Jonze on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 06:41:38 AM PST

  •  But, But - Cokie Said the Same Thing! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Matt Z

    On NPR yesterday:

    INSKEEP: Okay. Well, how did this threat to not pay the bills become so prominent? Because the debt ceiling has been around for decades, it's been complained about for decades, but until 2011, it was just raised.

    ROBERTS: No, that's not true. That's not true.

    INSKEEP: All right, yes, raised after much, much complaint. Go on.

    ROBERTS: Much complaint. I mean, in the last year of Carter's presidency, all 154 Republicans voted no and then the next year with Ronald Reagan as president they voted 150 to 36 in favor of an increase and the Democrats have played exactly the same game. In 2004, with George W. Bush as president, House Democrats voted unanimously against raising the debt ceiling. In 2006, so did Mr. Obama and all the other Senate Democrats.

    See, both sides do it!
    •  Cokie Roberts (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      leoklein

      is the ultimate Inside the Beltway Villager - both parents served in Congress, married to a journalist, 30+ years as a DC reporter.  I used to enjoy her Monday morning commentary on NPR, but now she just spouts the CW of the privileged class to which she belongs.

      Just once I would like them to have the courage to let an ordinary person, living with reduced income, job insecurity, worried about retirement, their children's future and the future of our country speak to the nonsense that pours out of the media.  

  •  President Obama (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RadGal70

    has also gotten more of this opposition shit because he is black.

    "Your image of God creates you." Richard Rohr

    by createpeace on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 07:12:32 AM PST

  •  2006 to 2007 (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RadGal70, Laconic Lib

    In 2006 no Democrats in the Senate voted for the debt ceiling increase. The ceiling was raised in the House by Republicans as well.

    In 2007 no Republicans voted for the increase in the House. Only one voted for it in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate 52-40. No fillibuster, no BS.

    The debt ceiling is a manufactured, political issue. It forces the majority to accept responsibility for steering the budget responsibly. What the House is threatening is unprecedented. Anyone who says differently either doesn't know the history on this issue and refuse to learn or they're "spinning".

    We just played this game around a year and a half ago and the debt increased and our credit rating suffered. The stated desire of this action by the house (debt reduction) is undermined by their actions. They need to be shamed by all responsible people with a pen and a readership.

  •  If they do succeed in blowing it all up (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Laconic Lib

    There will be opportunities for the Kleptocrat Klass to pick up a few extra juicy, profitable bits of what's left after the massive economic implosion.

    See - It's not all bad for everyone. We should probably just chill out. They did pay for this congress. They should be able to do what they want with it.

    The Aggressively Ignorant Caucus is getting aggressively ignorant again.

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 07:43:38 AM PST

  •  The Ransom verbiage by POTUS, IMHO, was (0+ / 0-)

    a borrowed Verbiage from Mitch McConnell who said that the Debt Ceiling was a Hostage worth Ransoming.

    NOTE:  That pres Obama made a point in Quoting Boehner's comments on Debt Ceiling....on his Jan 11 2011 interview on Fox Sunday with Chris Wallace.

    POTUS almost always NEVER does anything just for the sake of doing it.

  •  This film clip is even more pertinent to the (0+ / 0-)

    current Chicken Games than to the cliff analogy (James Dean)
    http://youtu.be/...

    I'd tip you but they cut off my tip box. The TSA would put Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad on the no-fly list.

    by OHdog on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 10:08:48 AM PST

  •  Symbolic votes (0+ / 0-)

    are only symbolic on a sure losing side if you are a Republican. That's because anything they do is right and anything that Dems do is wrong. Just ask 'em; the new Republican mantra is, "We're right because we're the right Right." It works so well at self-delusion.

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