Fact Checking John Boehner on Debt Limit Hostage Taking


Speaker Boehner today wrote an op-ed in USA Today about the debt limit and deficit reduction that would be kind of cute if his cleverness didn't turn out to be monumentally stupid. In his column, Boehner tries to normalize GOP's debt ceiling hostage taking by arguing that since in some previous instances, debt reduction packages have contained increases in the debt limit, therefore it was completely normal to always hold the debt limit hostage to draconian budget cuts.

Boehner makes the case for normalizing hostage taking thusly:
Every major effort to deal with the deficit over the past 30 years has been tied to the debt limit. In 1985, President Reagan signed the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction bill, which included a debt limit increase. When President Bush reached a budget deal with a Democratic Congress in 1990, it included a debt limit increase. President Clinton reached similar agreements with a Democratic majority in 1993 and with a Republican majority on the balanced budget agreement of 1997.
And so, argues the Speaker, there is nothing new about holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage to the budget-slashing demands of a small, right wing fringe. This is tragically hilarious. Boehner is trying to say that just because 4 deficit reduction bills in the last 30 years - five, if you include the 2011 deal - also carried an increase of the debt limit - not the other way around (by the way, the 1993 bill Boehner is talking about is Bill Clinton's tax-raising, deficit-reducing package that exactly zero Republicans voted for), that therefore it is normal to demand Paul Ryan Path to Poverty style cuts with every debt limit increase.

The inconvenient truth for the Speaker is that between 1980 and 2011 - before the August 2011 deal, the debt limit was increased 39 times, and even the best obfuscatory representation cannot show more than four of those instances being coupled with a debt reduction package. What's more, in none of those four instances did Congress make a deficit reduction package a condition of increasing the debt limit. Each of those four instances were predominantly tax and spending packages to which debt limit increases were attached, not predominantly crisis-mode debt limit increase measures to which debt reductions were attached. In the Bush years alone, Boehner himself cast five votes to raise the debt limit, with zero demands to reduce the debt.

Despite John Boehner's pathetic attempt to obscure the facts and normalize the hostage taking by his party's fringe, the facts remain utterly clear: no president before Barack Obama ever faced a Congress that was willing to bankrupt the United States in order to harm a president of the opposing party. No president before Barack Obama ever faced an opposition that dedicated itself to hurting this country in order to hurt him. And never before 2011 had any Congress insisted on holding the debt ceiling hostage to force indiscriminate spending cuts.

That is why debt limit hostage taking cannot become the norm in American politics, no matter how much Boehner and his party would like for it to be. As President Obama has stated in no unequivocal terms, he will not negotiate with Congress about whether or not Congress will pay the bills Congress racked up. There will be no hostage negotiations with economic terrorists from Boehner's party, and the president will not absolve Congress of its responsibility.

And I suspect that John Boehner gets that message, clear as day. He knows that the president is serious, and that his party has no cards. No one - not the American people and not the Republicans' corporate masters - will tolerate another debt limit crisis. Boehner is caught between Barack and a hard place. That's why he's whimpering and lashing out, writing bad op-ed pieces to try to put on a show for his base.


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