Now that the fiscal cliff drama is behind him, President Obama returned to Washington this weekend to face several more looming budget battles with congressional Republicans, putting them on notice that he won’t be playing a “dangerous game” again with the debt ceiling.
“If Congress refuses to give the United States the ability to pay its bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy could be catastrophic,” the president said in his weekly address. “The last time Congress threatened this course of action, our entire economy suffered for it. Our families and our businesses cannot afford that dangerous game again.”
The president for months has been warning the GOP that he won’t allow them to play chicken with the debt ceiling like they did in 2011, when they refused to raise the debt ceiling unless the president agreed to spending cuts, leading to a downgrading of the credit rating for U.S. government bonds for the first time in U.S. history. Markets in the U.S. and around the world reacted wildly, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging by 635 points.
Republicans see the debt ceiling as an opportunity to pressure the president to make spending cuts. But the timing is especially frustrating for the president because raising the debt ceiling is the government’s way of borrowing the money Congress has already agreed to spend. So by pressuring Obama, Congress is giving the president a hard time for raising the money to pay for Congress’ own actions.
House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp, R- Mich., in the Republican response to Obama’s weekend address, said simply raising the debt ceiling isn’t the answer — major spending cuts are.
“Many of our Democrat colleagues just don’t seem to get it,” Camp said. “Throughout the fiscal cliff discussions, the President and the Democrats who control Washington repeatedly refused to take any meaningful steps to make Washington live within its means. That position is irresponsible and fails to acknowledge what every family in America already knows — when you have no more money in your account and your credit cards are maxed out, then the spending must stop.”
But as the president sees it, the debt ceiling battle is not the time to have major negotiations over spending cuts — and when he tried to do that with the fiscal cliff negotiations, House Speaker John Boehner failed to rise to the occasion and get enough Republican votes on tax hikes to go along with Obama’s agreement to cut spending.
If the government can’t raise the debt ceiling, the government may have to cancel spending or temporarily shut down.
Raising the debt ceiling didn’t become a contentious political issue until Obama took office, which must be galling to him as he looks back on how often it was done by his predecessors. The ceiling has been raised 74 times since 1962 — including 18 times under Republican hero Ronald Reagan, eight times under Bill Clinton, and seven times under George W. Bush. Obama has only done it three time thus far.