Policy: Budgets & Deficits

About 40 percent of debt limit increases have been used to settle other policy fights

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Joel Gehrke,Barack Obama,Debt Ceiling,Budgets and Deficits,Government Shutdown

About 40 percent of the debt limit increases that have taken place since 1917 included extraneous fiscal policy issues, according to a Congressional Research Service memorandum chronicling the history of Congress using the debt limit as an opportunity to achieve policy goals.

"Of the 103 laws changing the debt limit during this period, 39 laws also included such other provisions," the CRS memorandum states.

"We then examined such provisions to determine whether or not they represented a change in fiscal policy. Based on this review, we identified 20 debt limit laws that also included a change in fiscal policy during the period from 1917 to the present."

The CRS notes that Congress may have used the debt ceiling for leverage on another policy fight even more often than indicated by those statistics.

"[I]n order to provide the requested information in a timely manner, we did not undertake to identify each instance in which a change in the debt limit (specifically, when an increase was necessary to pay current obligations) might have precipitated a subsequent change in fiscal policy in separate legislation," the memo said. "As described above, we limited our review to cases in which both the debt limit change and the fiscal policy change were included in the same legislation."

The memorandum provides fodder for Republicans who hope to achieve policy victories on Obamacare and other issues through the vehicle of legislation raising the debt ceiling or funding the government.

"The president is refusing to negotiate, but as CRS notes, 'debate surrounding increases to the debt limit has often included discussions of fiscal policy,' " Mike Ricci, an aide to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a post touting the memorandum. "This time should be no different."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called on Congress to "fulfill" it's responsibility in a way that "prior to 2011 it had always been fulfilled, which is raising the debt ceiling without the real threat of default."

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