October 1, 2013
Consider the debt limit. Like ObamaCare, it is a statute enacted by Congress–or rather a series of statutes, each authorizing the issuance of additional debt as it becomes necessary. The Congressional Research Service reports that the 111th Congress–the same one that enacted ObamaCare–raised the debt limit three times: by $789 billion to $12.104 trillion in February 2009, by $290 billion to $12.394 trillion in December 2009, and by $1.9 trillion to $14.294 trillion in February 2010.
Obama and the Democrats, who then controlled Congress, could have avoided the current difficulty by enacting legislation in 2009 or 2010 raising the limit to, say, $20 trillion–or abolishing it altogether, or suspending it until 2017. (A suspension of fixed duration, 3½ months, was in fact enacted this past February.)
It’s not hard to think of reasons why instead they followed the custom of enacting only stopgap increases instead of what would have amounted to a blank check. For one, it would have been politically disadvantageous, if not disastrous, for Democrats to announce their intention to put the country that deeply into debt. For another, Obama had not yet been re-elected, so that a blank check from congressional Democrats might have been cashed by a Republican president.
Democrats in Congress are no more eager than Republicans to give up the leverage that comes with the need for periodic legislation raising the debt limit. As we noted Friday, Democrats attempted unsuccessfully to use that leverage 40 years ago to enact laws restricting political speech. And in 2006 a young Democratic senator voted against raising the limit to a comparatively paltry $8.965 trillion.
Yeah, you know who it was.