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A Brief History of Debt Limit Votes in the House

May 20, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

We already know that the House Republicans support increasing the debt limit. All but four of them recently voted in favor of a budget blueprint that calls for adding $9 trillion to the debt subject to limit over the next decade. Yet somehow they have convinced Obama and the Democrats that they have to get something in return, like spending cuts that make tax increases less likely, in exchange for actually voting for the debt limit increase they’ve already endorsed.

Raising the debt limit is never popular, but both parties do it with a fair amount of regularity. As Rep. Michael Simpson [R, ID-2] noted last year, raising the debt limit is “the burden of the majority.” No matter which party is in power, the majority party has always been responsible for calling up a debt limit vote as the federal government gets close to borrowing more money to execute the laws than Congress has given them statutory authority to, and whipping their membership to get it passed. This year, however, the Republicans are bucking that trend. They seem to have convinced the Democrats that the government should either default on their obligations, or the debt limit increase should include hundreds of billions in spending cuts and preserve the low Bush-era tax rates, and that the Democrats should still provide a majority of the votes to pass it.

As I did for the Senate, below is a chart I put together using data from the Office of Management and Budget (caution, .xls file) showing all of the debt increase votes going back to 1997, what level they raised the limit to, and how many Republicans in the Senate voted for it.

Bill Containing Debt Ceiling Increase New Debt Ceiling Level Enacted Number of Republicans in House Voting “Yes” Party Controlling House/President
111-H.J.Res.45 – Increasing the statutory limit on the public debt (debt portion deemed passed in the rule, ) $14,294,000,000,000 0 Democrats/Obama
111-H.R.4314 – To permit continued financing of Government operations (2009) $12,394,000,000,000 0 Democrats/Obama
111-H.R.1 – American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka TARP)(2009) $12,104,000,000,000 0 Democrats/Obama
110-H.R.1424 – Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (2008) $11,315,000,000,000 91 Democrats/Bush
110-H.R.3221 – Housing and Recovery Act (2008) $10,615,000,000,000 45 Democrats/Bush
110-H.J.Res.43 – Increasing the statutory limit on the public debt (2007) (deemed passed in the budget resolution, S.Con.Res.21 $9,815,000,000,000 0 Democrats/Bush
109-H.J.Res.47 – Debt limit increase resolution (2006) (deemed passed in the budget resolution, H.Con.Res.95) $8,965,000,000,000 214 Republicans/Bush
108-S.2986 – A bill to Amend Title 31 of U.S. Code to increase the public debt limit (2004) $8,184,000,000,000 206 Republicans/Bush
108-H.J.Res.51 – Debt limit increase resolution (2003) (deemed passed in the budget resolution, H.Con.Res.95 ) $7,384,000,000,000 214 Republicans/Bush
107-S.2578 – Debt limit bill (2002) $6,400,000,000,000 211 Republicans/Bush
105-H.R.2015 – Balanced Budget Act of 1997 $5,950,000,000,000 193 Republicans/Bush

Whether you support or oppose the policies Republicans want to tack onto this, it’s clear that they’re on the verge of scoring a huge, historically anomalous, victory here. The Tea Party crowd has added a hard-line ideological edge to the Republican caucus, and the Democrats are clearly afraid. They’ve convinced the Democrats that this debt limit vote is different from all others. Rather than following the trend and taking a responsible, yet unpopular, vote, the Republicans are positioned to turn this into a big win — both policy-wise and politically.

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