Why Didn’t Democrats Raise The Debt Ceiling Last December?

As we hurdle toward uncertainly, it’s worth noting, I think, that the Democrats passed on the opportunity to deal with the debt ceiling back in December 2010 when they still had control of Congress. Why, you might ask? I’ll let Harry Reid explain:

Briefing reporters yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he’s glad the debt ceiling was left out of this tax package. And he was unusually blunt about why.

“That’s something that we talked about,” Reid said. “My personal feeling is that I’m not sure — and a lot of my caucus doesn’t agree on this — but I think it may be better to do the debt ceiling, raise it next year rather than now.”


“I want the Republicans to have some buy-in on the debt,” he said. “They’re going to have a majority in the House. I think they should have some kind of a buy-in on the debt. I don’t think it should be when we have a heavily Democratic Senate, a heavily Democratic House and a Democratic president.”

Reid was responding to questions being raised as to why he wouldn’t attach the debt ceiling increase to the bill to extend the Bush Tax Cuts, a bill the GOP would be unlikely to vote against. His reason? Pure politics. Not shocking to those of us who have watched Washington for a long time, but it’s worth noting that neither side is innocent here.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Listner says:

    Pass the buck.

  2. mantis says:

    it’s worth noting that neither side is innocent here.

    Innocent of what? Wanting to see the economy destroyed? Sorry, only one side is guilty of that.

  3. tps says:


    Agreed. The Dems have a lot to answer for.

  4. mantis says:

    Agreed. The Dems have a lot to answer for.

    Indeed. Why they ever believed Republicans cared about the well being of their own country, I have no idea. Foolish Democrats…

  5. @mantis:

    Why didn’t the Democrats bring up the debt ceiling hike when they controlled the Congress? Harry Reid’s explanation strikes me as pure politics as much as anything the GOP is doing.

    For that matter why haven’t the Senate Democrats proposed a budget plan in more than 820 days?

  6. WR says:

    Gosh, Doug, maybe it’s because they know they could never get it past a filibuster by a party that won’t allow votes on anything. Do you think that’s a possibility, or are you hopelessly stuck in your “they’re both bad” mode?

  7. @WR:

    Under standing Senate rules Budget bills cannot be filibustered.

  8. Moosebreath says:


    Raising the debt ceiling isn’t a budget bill.

  9. Fargus says:

    But the Democrats could have insisted on a debt ceiling increase being bundled with the tax cut package at the end of the year. Reid’s explanation doesn’t just sound nakedly political, it sounds incoherent. And it sounded incoherent at the time, it’s not just with hindsight.

  10. Michael says:

    Thanks for nothing, Idiot. You wanted Republican fingerprints on it, well guess what………

  11. mantis says:

    Why didn’t the Democrats bring up the debt ceiling hike when they controlled the Congress? Harry Reid’s explanation strikes me as pure politics as much as anything the GOP is doing.

    Ok, Captain Renault. Yes, you’ve discovered that legislators do things for political reasons. The big difference, of course, is that Republicans want to wreck the economy for political reasons, while all Reid did was decide not to call a vote many months before it had to happen, for political reasons.

    For that matter why haven’t the Senate Democrats proposed a budget plan in more than 820 days?

    Is that a serious question? Do you really not know why?

  12. @Moosebreath:

    But if the raise in the debt ceiling had been included in the bill that extended the Bush Tax Cuts, it would have been a budget bill and thus exempt from filibuster

  13. PJ says:

    Ìf the Democrats had raised the debt ceiling in December 2010 I’m pretty certain we would have read posts here complaining about the lame duck congress raising the debt ceiling…

  14. @Doug Mataconis: I don’t think that that is correct (but I could be mistaken). I need to look up the rule, but I don’t think that just because it was a tax bill that it was filibuster proof. Rather, I think the filibuster-proof portions are linked to the authorization/appropriations process. Of course, it is has been a while since I taught legislative processes and I may not be remembering all the details. This is something I need to look up.

  15. Jay Tea says:

    PJ, I’ll cheerfully cop to being one who would have done just that. But I’d have also been saying that just because the ceiling’s been raised, that’s no reason to run right up against it. There’d still be a lot of people yelling over excess spending — the Porkbusters really got their start in 2005.


  16. Anonne says:

    In Reid’s defense, I don’t think he expected quite this much crazy from the Republicans. I do agree that Republican buy-in on the debt is important, since, you know, they did the vast majority of running up the debt and the deficit in the 6 years under Bush II that they had the trifecta of control over Washington, and bludgeoned Democrats into submission in the last two while they had control. They have no problems raising the limit when it comes to our endless wars, but God forbid we raise the debt limit or levy taxes to pay for them.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    This shows you how severely the Dems underestimated/misunderstood the crazy.

    It also shows, yet again, how spineless they are. They had the power to do it, but didn’t want to give the GOP the opportunity to paint them (and only them) as big spenders. Hahahahaha! Except that’s what happened anyway, you fools!

    The Dems never seem to learn. They live in a defensive crouch, fearing the next GOP attack.

    They should, instead, do what they think is right and then back it up proudly. No matter what the Dems do, the R’s will pour invective down upon them. That’s politics, dirty, nasty, and real. Sack up. As FDR once said “… and I welcome their hatred.”

    And this is why, despite being one, I can’t stand the Dems most of the time.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    As FDR once said “… and I welcome their hatred.”

    Sadly, there seem to be very few national Democrats who have the balls that FDR had…

  19. superdestroyer says:


    Can any party that support open borders, unlimited immigraiton, and separate and unequal treatment of citizens really be seen as caring about their country. What Democrats care about is creating more people who are totally dependent of the government so that they will automatically vote for Democrats.

  20. An Interested Party says:

    Can a known racist who only writes comments related to ethnic and other minority groups really be seen as making any useful and worthy points? What superdestroyer cares about is sharing his bigoted and xenophobic views and how they support his anti-government rhetoric…

  21. superdestroyer says:


    I’ll take that as a no. The Democrats do not really care about people. What Democrats care about is political power, political block groups, and growing the government as large as possible

    The political party that has produced places like Detroit, Baltimore, East Saint Louis, and East LA has clearly demonstrated that it does not care about people at all. .

  22. Parah Salin says:

    No, it’s because Harry Reid didn’t think it was necessary. There is a budget created by the Progressive Caucus, but it just wont bring in those campaign dollars so it’s been ignored.

    Things don’t get “past the Republicans” because Harry Reid files for cloture on his own partys bills which push the bar up to 60 votes to end the debate, where it moves on for a regular vote with a lower threshold. It’s at this point, after Reid files for cloture and the Republicans wont give him 60 votes he starts his little song and dance about Republicans filibustering when it is nothing of the sort. I could be a simple majority. Just like above, where he says he wants them to have some “buy in”, he wants them to be on the record as collaborating with the democrats by taking tough votes that are hard to explain to their constituents.
    I’m a progressive, but Hapless Harry is destroying regular order in the Senate and ultimately democracy and the ability to get anything done. He’s toxic and should be removed.

  23. Parah Salin says:

    @superdestroyer: Its not just Democrats who don’t care about limiting immigration, legal or illegal because it’s good for business. It creates downward pressure on wages which means more profits. Democrats and Republicans are only nominally different, they are both committed to the elites and telling the rubes what they can get away with. Democrats perform their kabuki role better in the weaker position so they can offer up excuses about why they are so awful. Republicans are more authoritarian, and they don’t have to offer up excuses, they do what they want. It takes an A-hole to run cowboy nation and ‘Merikans like that unapologetic randian quality.

  24. Parah Salin says:

    @An Interested Party:
    The Democrats were only worth their mettle for about 30 years. Before FDR they were Tammany Hall and corrupt as all get out.
    The good ones lost the battle 68 in Chicago against Daley. Take a look at all the Chicagoans running the Administration. The Bankers are in control. The problem is that constituents have hung on to the myth of FDR, and haven’t looked beyond the rhetoric and seen them for what they really are, or how they have changed.

    Yves Smith and Naked Capitalism: Third Way Document Proves Democratic Party Supports Institutionalized Looting by Banks

    Take a look at Center for American Progress and you’ll find the people that write the Democrats awful neoliberal blood sucking vampire squid policies.

  25. An Interested Party says:

    The Democrats do not really care about people.

    As opposed to you, who only cares about white people…