“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”
- Then-U.S. Senator- Obama in 2006
(He voted against the debt ceiling increase)
Despite the more than $6 trillion that’s been added to the debt on his watch, President Obama initially insisted he “will not negotiate” in a bipartisan way. While the President publically maintained that he was not negotiating on the debt limit, he finally met with House Republicans last week.
In divided government, not all sides will agree on everything, but they must work together. Efforts to reduce America's debt and deficit have been coupled with the debt limit debate under previous president’s including, Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton – and, even President Obama in 2011.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has voted 53 times from 1978 to 2011 to change the debt ceiling.
o Of those 53 votes, 29 occurred in a Congress run by Democrats
o 17 votes occurred in a split Congress
o 7 votes occurred in a Republican-controlled Congress
Of the 53 increases in the debt limit, 26 of those votes were “clean” with no strings attached. The remaining votes were part of an omnibus package of other legislative bills, and other times the debt limit was paired with reforms. One out of every four of these votes occurred when control of Congress was divided between the two parties.
Below are examples, courtesy of the Speaker’s office, of spending cuts and reforms included in debt limit agreements signed by previous presidents include:
March 1996 Debt Limit Agreement (Signed by President Bill Clinton)
o Raised debt limit from $4.9 trillion to $5.5 trillion
- Congressional Review Act (CRA) for Regulations
- Senior Citizens' Right to Work Act of 1996 - Amends title II (Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) (OASDI) of the Social Security Act (SSA) to provide, through adjustments in the monthly exempt amount, for increases in the amounts of allowable earnings under the social security earnings limit for individuals who have attained retirement age.
- A Series of Small Business Regulatory Relief Proposals
November 1990 Debt Limit Agreement (Signed by President George H.W. Bush)
o Raised the debt limit from $3.123 trillion to $4.145 trillion
- Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Deal, including major changes in 13 areas:
- Title I. Agriculture and related programs.
- Title II. Banking, housing, and related programs.
- Title III. Student loans and labor provisions.
- Title IV. Medicare, Medicaid, and other health-related programs.
- Title V. Income security, human resources, and related programs.
- Title VI. Energy and environmental programs.
- Title VII. Civil service and postal service programs.
- Title VIII. Veterans' programs.
- Title IX. Transportation.
- Title X. Miscellaneous user fees and other provisions.
- Title XI. Revenue provisions.
- Title XII. Pensions.
- Title XIII. Budget enforcement.
November 1989 Debt Limit Agreement (Signed by President George H.W. Bush)
o Raised the debt limit from $2.8 trillion to $3.123 trillion
- A repeal of non-discrimination requirement for group health insurance enacted in 1986
September 1987 Debt Limit Agreement (Signed by President Ronald Reagan)
o Raised the debt limit from $2.111 trillion to $2.8 trillion
- The Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Reaffirmation Act of 1987, which
- Revised the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Procedures
- Made Other Budget Process Reforms
December 1985 Debt Limit Agreement (Signed by President Ronald Reagan)
o Raised the debt limit from $1.824 trillion to $2.079 trillion
- The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Budget Reforms including deficit targets and sequestration