Negotiating Over The Debt Ceiling Is Not Unprecedented
Contrary to the White House's arguments, negotiating over the debt ceiling is not at all historically unprecedented.
President Obama and the Democrats are maintaining their apparently uncompromising “no negotiations” strategy with respect to the twin fiscal crisis that the nation is now dealing with, insisting that it is up to Republicans to put forward clean bills to open the government and raise the debt ceiling before engaging in negotiations on any other issue. More than once, the President himself, his spokespeople, and various members of the House and Senate have stated that it is unprecedented for talks about raising the debt ceiling to be debt to unrelated, extraneous issues such as some of those that Republicans are rumored to be including as part of their debt ceiling proposal. Among those proposals are rumored to be matters such as the PPACA’s medical device tax, entitlement reform, the Keystone XL pipeline, and tax reform. As it turns out, though, these kinds of negotiations over the debt ceiling aren’t nearly as unprecedented as you might think:
While the White House vows it doesn’t want to set a precedent negotiating policy proposals to be included in a debt ceiling increase — calling it extortion – there have been discussions in the past surrounding such a hike and Congress has attached other issues to raising the limit a number of times.
The House and Senate, in November 1989, agreed as part of a debt ceiling increase to repeal a tax rule approved three years earlier barring discrimination in employer-paid health insurance plans.
After threats of default and many meetings between President Barack Obama and congressional leaders in August 2011, an increase in the debt ceiling in three stages was included in the Budget Control Act.
That law imposed automatic spending reductions known as sequester, established a joint committee on deficit reduction, and required a vote on a balanced-budget amendment.
There also were votes in the 1970s and 1980s on the debt limit, which included requirements for a balanced budget vote, a cigarette tax and the push for an alternative minimum tax.
“Listen, the debt limit is right around the corner. The president is saying, ‘I won’t negotiate. I won’t have a conversation’ even though President (Ronald) Reagan negotiated with Democrats who controlled the Congress back then, even though President George Herbert Walker Bush had a conversation about raising the debt limit.
“During the Clinton administration, there were three fights over the debt limit,” House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told ABC News on Sunday. “I don’t want the United States to default on its debt. But I’m not going to raise the debt limit without a serious conversation about dealing with problems that are driving the debt up. It would be irresponsible of me to do this.”
The White House says, unlike previous occasions, this time there are preconditions set by the Republicans attached to any debt ceiling hike.
Kevin Hassett and Abby McCloskey of the American Enterprise Institute last week wrote in a column for the Wall Street Journal 60% of debt limit increases that included other legislative items came in Democratic Congresses while 15% came in Republican-led ones and the remaining 25% were in divided ones.
“Debt-limit votes have provided a regular vehicle for legislation. Divided governments have a difficult time passing anything. Since the consequences of government default are so severe, debt-limit legislation has always passed in the end, and it has often included important additional legislative accomplishments,” the pair wrote.
In other words, for better or for worse, the debt ceiling has been used as the field upon which other legislative battles have been fought. So, to argue that it would be without precedent to do so today just doesn’t stand up to an examination of history. Moreover, it largely puts to bed the argument that the White House has making that conceding the idea of even opening talks regarding the debt ceiling would set a bad precedent for future Presidents given the fact that the same thing has already happened in the past and, as long as we have a debt ceiling law, will continue to happen in the future.
None of this is to argue against the proposition that things have been different this time around. To a large degree, whether you’re talking about the government shutdown or the debt ceiling, some of the Republican demands have been wildly unrealistic. There are not going to be any large scale changes to the Affordable Care Act, and the program is not going to be delayed. Any Republican going into negotiations thinking that any of those items has even the slightest chance of succeeding was, quite honestly, deluding themselves. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t other items that couldn’t properly be the subject of negotiations regarding the twin issues of the shutdown and the debt ceiling. At the same time, though, insisting that there will be no negotiations and acting as if negotiating would be some kind of historically unprecedented act is simply not supported by the facts. The closer we get to the Treasury Department’s “drop dead” date, the less credible that position is going to become.