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April 17th, 2011

Shared Responsibility

By Nathan Tucker

Now that Congress has passed a budget for the remaining six months of the fiscal year, the debate in Washington has shifted to the Obama Administration’s desire to raise the current $14,294,000,000,000 debt limit.   The current national debit is fast approaching that limit which, once reached, will no longer allow the federal government to borrow money to cover its operating expenses.

The limit, arbitrarily set by Congress, has been raised eleven times in the past fourteen years.  During that time period, the best indicator of how a member of Congress voted on raising the debt limit was whether their party controlled the White House.  There were exceptions, of course, but generally they did not oppose raising the debt ceiling unless they also opposed the President.

There was unanimous support among Iowa’s congressional delegation in 1997 to raise the debt limit to $5,950,000,000,000 (nearly a third of what it is today).  Both  Congressmen Latham (R) and Boswell (D) voted for the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 in the House, as did Senators Grassley (R) and Harkin (D) in the Senate.

Such unanimity ended under President Bush when the debt ceiling was raised in 2002 to $6,400,000,000,000.  Both Latham and Grassley supported the measure, while Boswell and Harkin voted against it.

This partisan trend continued for several years.  Both Grassley and Latham, joined by newly elected Republican Congressman King, voted to raise the debt limit in 2003 to $7,384,000,000,000, while Harkin and Boswell voted no.  This vote count was repeated in 2004 when the debt ceiling was raised to $8,184,000,000,000 and again in 2005 when it was raised to $8,965,000,000,000.

In 2007, even though a Republican was still in the White House, the voting patterns began to change.  Republicans Latham and King voted against raising the debt ceiling to $9,815,000,000,000, while Republican Senator Grassley voted with Democrats Harkin and Boswell, now joined by newly elected Congressmen Braley (D) and Loebsack (D), to raise it.

All three Republicans voted against raising the debt limit to $10,615,000,000,000 in 2008, while Braley and Loebsack voted for it and Boswell and Harkin abstained.  Later that same year, only Latham and King voted against raising the ceiling to $11,315,000,000,000, while Republican Grassley joined the four Democrats in voting for it.

The partisan voting trend resumed after Obama moved into the White House.  All three Republicans opposed raising the debt limit to $12,104,000,000,000 in 2009, while all four Democrats supported it.  The same pattern continued later that year when the ceiling was raised to $12,394,000,000,000, and again in 2010 when it was raised to  its current level of $14,294,000,000,000.

As America approaches this latest debt ceiling, the answer isn’t for Congress to, yet again, raise the limit on its own credit card.  Some have suggested that they might vote for it if Congress passed a Balanced Budget Amendment.  What they fail to mention, however, is that such an amendment means nothing if it isn’t ratified by thirty-eight states.

Others have said they will vote to raise the limit only if serious spending cuts are imposed.  Like, for instance, the hard-fought “cuts” in the newly-passed budget, which were supposed to be $38.5 billion but are, in reality, only $352 million.  Or perhaps the “cuts” in Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget, in which America would still be living off credit cards until it finally balances the budget in 2040.

The answer isn’t new empty promises, but an immovable credit limit which will serve as a de facto balanced budget amendment that forces Congress to live within its means.  Unlike a government shutdown, tax revenue will continue to come in and the government will continue to operate.  Congress, however, will no longer be able to spend more then it brings in.

A vote against raising the debt limit is a vote for a balanced budget.

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at

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