Over the next few weeks, as Congress approaches its next big budget fight the vote to raise the debt ceiling many Democrats are going to find themselves in an uncomfortable position. As Republicans threaten to withhold support for raising the ceiling unless the Democrats make spending concessions, Democrats will inevitably climb up on their high horses and exhort them to refrain from playing politics with such an important issue. "This is not the time for games," some wrinkly old white Democrat will say, then rightly point out that "the entire economy is at stake."
What he won't mention is that in March of 2006, under President George W. Bush, when Democrats were in the senate minority, then-senator Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling. So did every single one of his Democratic colleagues. The measure passed anyway, 52-48, due to near-universal Republican support. Yesterday, Obama's spokesman expressed some delayed regret for that vote on Obama's behalf:
Obama "thinks it was a mistake," presidential spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. "He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration's policies, you can play around with."
Of the Democratic senators who also voted no on raising the debt ceiling in 2006, thirty-one of them are still in office, according to the Weekly Standard. They will no doubt defend their former opposition to raising the debt ceiling by pointing out, as Minority Whip Steny Hoyer did today, that the 2006 bill was always going to pass anyway. Why go on record supporting more debt, the worst thing in the world ever, if we can just leave it up to the other guys? Republicans have done the same exact thing: The last time the senate voted to raise the debt ceiling, in January 2010, every Republican voted against it. It passed with unanimous Democratic support.
So, Carney's pleas not withstanding, the Senate has played around with the debt ceiling almost every time it has gotten the chance.