Balance the Budget? – Depends Who’s Spending!

If Senators cannot vote and fund bills in a way consistent with the very spending limits they claim to hold dear, they should leave, and we need to help them

       19 Senators forfeit credibility in their quest for obstructionist party politics. While you may not be surprised, it is rare any Senator, let alone a long list of them would leave a trail of open misrepresentation and deceit, it will be even more unfortunate if we let them get away with it. In their view, deficits are clearly OK to help big business, unacceptable for keeping the government running and helping Middle Americans.

Anyone coherent last summer was aware of the battle over raising the debt ceiling. The last minute posturing, press releases, public demands, and holding the bill hostage to a Balanced Budget Amendment made headlines daily. The battle caused wild swings in the financial market, lowering of the US debt rating, further polarized our political environment, and in the end costs you and me money. Not only did nothing good come out of the argument, the entire conflict was Boloney. [1]

To get a picture of the deception let’s look at the end of the Bush presidency and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, more commonly known as the Bank Bailout Bill. Submitted at $700 billion the bill didn’t make it out of the House, so the Senate picked it up anyway; passed it as an “amendment” adding roughly another $150 billion making the total cost $850 billion. Two key points: The money went to help big banks including bonuses for many executives who caused the problem; and every penny was deficit spending; yes both the $700 billion of bailout and the $150 billion in unrelated “extras” added by the Senate,  [2]

19 Senators on this list voted for the $850 billion in deficit spending. [3] All 19 then stood with the GOP leadership insisting on a Balanced Budget Amendment as a condition for raising the national debt ceiling. They pushed the government to the brink of shutdown, caused market havoc and lowering of the US debt rating while ignoring their own votes for more debt. All 19 voted again for the Boehner Balanced budget amendment which insisted the budget be balanced through spending cuts, again ignoring their own actions to raise spending, and the national deficit, when it supported big business. [4] But the truth gets worse.

Look back again at the Bush Presidency where the national debt limit began at $5.95 trillion. He promised to pay off that debt in 10 years, but instead raised the limit to $9.815 trillion. Here’s where the GOP leadership stood while the debt limit was raised five times. (data courtesy of ThinkProgress)

June 2002: Congress approves a $450 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $6.4 trillion. McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor vote “yea”, Kyl votes “nay.”

May 2003: Congress approves a $900 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $7.384 trillion. All four approve.

November 2004: Congress approves an $800 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $8.1 trillion. All four approve.

March 2006: Congress approves a $781 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $8.965 trillion. All four approve.

September 2007: Congress approves an $850 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $9.815 trillion. All four approve.

There were no demands to reduce spending as a condition of increasing the debt ceiling. Of perhaps greater interest is that the May 2003 debt limit increase and the $350 billion tax cuts passed on the same day. Certainly gives the appearance of then helping the wealthy, now ignoring Middle America. In the end, these Senators have no credibility. Bending their version of truth with the political wind may have become acceptable to them; it should never be acceptable to America. If Senators cannot vote and fund bills in a way consistent with the very spending limits they claim (to us anyway) to hold dear, they should leave, we need to help them. Remember there were many more involved pushing the country to the brink of default, these are the 19 whose voting record is in direct conflict with their stated position on the debt ceiling. [5]

Here are The 19 and their stated positions while holding the debt limit vote hostage: **

  1. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Alexander has said the debt ceiling vote “should be tied to debt reduction,” spokesman Nick Simpson said (4/20/11)
  2. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.*
  3. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R- Ga.* “While I don’t believe Congress should allow a potentially catastrophic default by the federal government, I do believe that any increase in the debt ceiling must come with policy reforms and assurances that future spending and deficits are being addressed in a meaningful way.” (Chambliss statement via spokeswoman Bronwyn LanceChester (4/21/11).
  4. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.: “I need absolutely certainty that we’ve made the critical changes that are necessary to put this country back where it needs to go. And unless we do that, there’s no way I support it.” (4/17/11, Fox News Sunday.)
  5. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.* Wants spending caps. (4/14/11)
  6. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.: “I am absolutely not going to vote to raise the debt ceiling unless we dramatically change the character of our spending,” Corker said. (4/17/11 speech)
  7. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. “I intend to vote against raising the debt ceiling unless we can get some systemic reforms – the kind the president’s own fiscal commission recommended,” (4/3/11, CNN’s “State of the Union.”)
  8. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.: “I do believe that the debt ceiling is an opportunity to provide leadership that has been missing in the past, to prevent America from defaulting on the debt, provide leadership now,” (5/1/11, “Fox News Sunday.”)
  9. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa: “We’ve got tremendous leverage by not increasing the debt to get a lot of things done that we want done — tackling entitlements and tackling a constitutional amendment requiring a balance budget. I support moving in both of those areas.” (4/5/11)
  10. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. “The [debt ceiling] is the one where we have to see reforms before the debt ceiling is raised or we would be in danger or we would be in danger of having to face this again in another year or two. Which we cannot do.” (4/8/2011)
  11. Senate Finance Committee ranking member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “He has consistently said we can’t increase the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts,” spokeswoman Julia Lawless said.
  12. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.: “There must be a serious commitment to reduce spending before he could consider voting to raise the debt ceiling,” Isakson Deputy Chief of Staff Joan Kirchner said.
  13. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. No. Kyl opposes raising debt ceiling baring some significant deficit cutting action, spokesman Ryan Patmintra said (4/21/11).
  14. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.: (4/13/11, interview) “Senator Lugar wants to see significant spending cuts as part of a debt limit increase deal,” senior advisor Mark Helmke said.
  15. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.*
  16. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “My view is — and I hope this would be the view of every single Senate Republican — is that in order to get my vote for raising the debt ceiling, we would need to do something significant about the debt, and let me define what I would view as significant: something that the markets would view as significant, something the American people would view as significant, something foreign countries would view as significant.”
  17. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska: “Unless the debt limit increase is accompanied by serious efforts to address our ballooning deficits, Sen. Murkowski would vote against a ‘clean’ increase,” spokesman Mike Anderson said.
  18. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. “There has to be a reduction plan of some kind. If we raise the debt ceiling in a vacuum what message is that going to send to the bondholders about whether we are serious about grappling with the long-term debt?” (4/14/11)
  19. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “He has said all along that this is an opportunity for deficit reduction or budget reform,” spokesman Kyle Downey said. (4/22/11)

** National Journal compiled a “whip list” detailing the stated position of lawmakers on a vote to significantly raise the debt limit without any cuts attached, or on a “clean” vote. The list is based on interviews, statements, other press reports and statements by Senate Republican leaders on the collective views of GOP conference members. Lawmakers’ descriptions of circumstances in which they would back an increase are noted.

*Based on repeated assertions by Senate Republican leaders that the entire GOP conference would oppose increasing the debt ceiling without major spending cuts, all Republicans who did not respond to inquiries or did not express a clear position are counted here as “no” votes. “A serious and credible path forward to reduce spending is the only thing, in my judgment, that will get Republican votes in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling,” McConnell said in April 19 news release.

[1] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/06/20/248938/franken-debt-ceiling/

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_Economic_Stabilization_Act_of_2008

[3] http://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/110-2008/s213

[4] http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=112&session=1&vote=00229

[5] http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/04/14/158424/republican-leaders-debt-limit-hypocrisy/

 

4 thoughts on “Balance the Budget? – Depends Who’s Spending!

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