IA-01, IA-02: Debt ceiling hike to be campaign issue

Last week, the U.S. House passed a resolution to disapprove President Barack Obama’s latest request to raise the debt limit. The mostly party-line vote was also mostly symbolic and consequently received little media attention. However, Republican challengers in Iowa’s first and second Congressional districts are likely to highlight this vote in their campaigns against Representatives Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack.

Background: the deal struck last August between the White House and Congressional Republicans called for raising the debt ceiling in three stages. Obama was authorized to increase the ceiling by $400 billion right away to avoid a default. Another $500 billion increase was scheduled for September, provided that the House and Senate did not pass a resolution of disapproval. The House did so, but the resolution failed to advance in the Senate. In addition,

Under last year’s Budget Control Act, Obama has the authority to call for an increase in the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. This increase can only be avoided if both the House and Senate pass resolutions of disapproval, although the Senate is not expected to follow suit.

Conveniently for all sides, raising the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion now should kick the can down the road until after the 2012 general election.

Passing a resolution of disapproval allows House Republicans to go on record opposing the latest debt ceiling increase. Equally important, it puts House Democrats on record against attempts to block Obama from following through on the deal struck in August.

The House passed the resolution of disapproval on January 18 by 239 votes to 176 (roll call). Almost all the Republicans present voted for the resolution, including Steve King (IA-05) and Tom Latham (IA-04). Likewise, almost all the House Democrats voted no, including Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03).

For the record, all five Iowans in the U.S. House voted no on the debt ceiling deal last August. The Iowans split on party lines when the House voted to disapprove the September increase in the debt ceiling. Both U.S. senators from Iowa voted against the debt ceiling deal, but only Republican Chuck Grassley voted for the September resolution to block the second increase.

Last week’s House vote to disapprove the debt ceiling hike was barely noticed in news reports, perhaps because everyone knows it won’t stop the $1.2 trillion increase. Also, the vote took place on January 18, the same day widespread protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect Intellectual Property Act dominated media coverage of Congress. (Bleeding Heartland covered where the Iowans stand on SOPA and PIPA here.)

Both Republicans who are campaigning against Braley in the new IA-01 have sharply criticized further action to raise the debt ceiling. Ben Lange posted this update on Facebook January 18:

To give credit when due, kudos to Congressman Bruce Braley for not supporting SOPA…BUT in another unbelievable irresponsible act to every American under the age of 50, Bruce Braley AGAIN today voted to INCREASE our national debt! If this doesn’t infuriate you, you are not paying attention to what our politicians are doing to this country. We are stealing prosperity from our children and their children!

Rod Blum highlighted the issue in a January 9 press release.

Blum Says House Republicans Should Just Say ‘No’ to Obama

While most people were taking down the Christmas tree and getting ready for the New Year, President Obama announced that he intends to ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling again. Dubuque businessman Rod Blum today urged House Republicans in Congress to tell President Obama the same thing his parents told him.

“As I travel around northeast Iowa, I tell people when I was young and I asked my parents for something they just couldn’t afford, the answer was ‘No.’ said Blum, who is running for the Republican nomination to Congress from Iowa’s new First District. “If my parents, with their 10th grade educations knew they couldn’t spend more than they made, we must make Washington understand this simple economic principle.”

Last August, President Obama and Congress battled over his request to raise the debt ceiling. At the last minute, Congress agreed to raise the $14.29 trillion debt ceiling in three steps. Congress voted to raise the debt limit by $400 billion in August and by another $500 billion in September. This latest request by President Obama is the third step and is “supposedly” the last debt ceiling increase necessary until 2013 – after the next election.

“People are sick tired of this crisis du jour we continually see from Washington,” Blum said. “Yes, this latest request is part of the August agreement, but that doesn’t mean Congress has to agree.”

Since Congress won’t return to Washington until mid-January, Congressional leaders have asked President Obama to delay his request so Congress will be in session during the 15 days allowed for objections. Obama’s request to increase the nation’s borrowing authority would boost the debt limit to a record $16.4 trillion. Both the House and Senate would have vote to block this debt ceiling increase.

“I hope House Republicans stand firm, and repeat their objections to raising the debt ceiling again,” Blum said. “Even though the Democrat Senate won’t agree, the House must send a strong message to voters that they have heard the voice of the Tea Party, and everyone who knows Washington has a spending problem that must be addressed.”

Like many Republicans, Lange and Blum are spreading a bit of confusion about what happens when the debt ceiling increases. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new federal spending on any government programs. It merely enables the federal government to fulfill its obligations to creditors based on spending Congress has already approved in budget bills or continuing spending resolutions.

In other words, Braley, Loebsack, and Boswell didn’t vote last Wednesday to increase the national debt. Congress already voted to increase the national debt when the House and Senate passed current-year budget legislation. Raising the debt ceiling just allows the necessary financial transactions to go forward.

In most countries, legislators don’t need to take separate action to raise the debt ceiling once spending has been approved. That would be like having to conclude a separate contract to raise your personal borrowing limit after you’ve already signed a mortgage to buy a house.

To my knowledge, none of Loebsack’s three declared challengers in IA-02 issued statements about last week’s vote on the debt ceiling. However, John Archer, Dan Dolan, and Richard Gates all talk about excessive federal spending in their public appearances. All three candidates have been scheduling events around the district in recent weeks, and I expect that the debt ceiling increases will become part of their case against a fourth term for Loebsack.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.