At the final press conference of President Obama’s first term, CBS News’ Major Garrett asked:
As you well know, sir, finding votes for the debt ceiling can sometimes be complicated. You yourselves as a member of the Senate voted against a debt ceiling increase. And in previous aspects of American history, President Reagan in 1985, President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, President Clinton in 1997 all signed deficit reduction deals that were contingent upon or in the context of raising the debt ceiling. You yourself four times have done that; three times those were related to deficit reduction or budget maneuvers.
What Chuck [Todd] and I and I think many people are curious about is this new adamant desire on your part not to negotiate when that seems to conflict with the entire history in the modern era of American presidents in the debt ceiling and your own history on the debt ceiling. And doesn’t that suggest that we are going to go into a default situation, because no one is talking to each other about how to resolve this?
Garrett is absolutely correct. As this American Action Forum table going back to 1993 shows, the debt limit is almost always raised in the context of some other deficit reduction/budget process legislation. No one likes to sign off on borrowing more money without getting at least some measure of fiscal responsibility in return. In 2010, for example, Blue Dog Democrats forced then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass PAYGO rules in exchange for their votes to raise the debt limit. Demanding a price for a debt limit hike vote is absolutely business as normal in Washington.
Which is why it is virtually guaranteed that Speaker John Boehner will get at least something in return for moving a debt hike through the House. For all the bluster and demonizing the press does about the House GOP, Politico reports today:
Boehner won’t say this to his members, but Republicans who know him well believe he will never allow default, even if it puts his leadership position at risk. Remember, raising the debt limit requires a House vote, so it is possible Boehner could face a choice of allowing a vote that a majority of his members would oppose, which he has promised not to do — or allowing default.
But that does not mean that whatever debt limit hike Boehner eventually brings to the floor will be a clean debt limit hike. If voting to raise the debt were easy, Majority Leader Harry Reid would have already passed a clean debt limit hike through the Senate. He hasn’t. And there are six reasons why he will not be passing a clean debt limit hike anytime soon. Those reasons are:
1. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
2. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska
3. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
4. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D.
5. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.
6. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.
The six Democratic Senators listed above are all up for reelection in 2014 and they all hail from states that Mitt Romney won. In fact, Romney won every single one of those states, except for N.C., by double digits. And that was all in a presidential year. Mid-term electorates are much more conservative. If Reid wants to preserve any chance of maintaining his Senate majority, he will not force these Democrats to vote for a ‘clean’ debt limit hike.