House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that his previous votes against raising the country’s debt limit were “a mistake.” The Maryland Democrat urged Republicans not to “hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States” by refusing to support raising the debt ceiling unless it is accompanied by a plan to reduce the national deficit.
“Let me be the first to observe that I have voted against the debt limit in the past. That was a mistake,” Hoyer said at his weekly roundtable with reporters. “You try to make the point, knowing full well that the debt limit had to pass, and everybody tries to make a point. The point that we were trying to make when we voted against the debt limit was that cutting revenues, i.e. taxes, on a regular basis and then increasing spending was a policy that inevitably led to debt.”
Hoyer’s expression of regret comes a day after White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said that President Obama, too, “thinks it was a mistake” to vote against raising the debt ceiling in 2006 when he was the junior senator from Illinois.
“He realizes now that raising the debt ceiling is so important to the health of this economy and the global economy that it is not a vote that, even when you are protesting an administration’s policies, you can play around with,” Carney said Monday.
Members of the minority party in each chamber often vote not to increase the debt limit, either out of protest or as a means of forcing the majority party to agree to certain provisions in exchange for receiving enough votes for the debt-limit vote to pass.
The Treasury Department projects that the country will exceed its $14.25 trillion debt ceiling in mid-May, setting up a battle almost immediately after Congress returns from a two-week recess on May 2.
Some Republicans in both chambers have said they won’t agree to increase the debt ceiling unless it’s accompanied by a deficit-reduction plan or a balanced budget amendment such as the one introduced earlier this month by all 47 Senate Republicans. About 20 liberal House Democrats penned a letter to Obama on Monday urging for a “clean” debt limit bill. The White House also prefers a “clean” vote but has recently signaled that it may be open to other possibilities.
On Tuesday Hoyer seized on Republicans’ previous statements that uncertainty undermines the country’s economy.
“If, in fact, Republicans are threatening not to vote for the debt limit extension, then we will see great uncertainty in the economy and great uncertainty among the financial sector all over the world,” Hoyer said.
But asked whether he expected to vote for raising the debt limit himself – and whether other Democrats were likely to follow suit – Hoyer said it depends on what’s attached to it.
“My own view is that we’ve got to see the position in which it is presented to us,” Hoyer said. “I think that to hold hostage the full faith and credit of the United States of America to another agenda item is wrong. In fact, the Republicans pledged that they would not do that, and in fact, they said, and Mr. Boehner has said that he would keep separate divisive issues from important bills and take them up individually. That is what ought to be done here.”
He also cast the debt-limit fight in graver terms than the fight over spending cuts that Congress is wrapping up this week: “Not extending the debt limit is of a substantially different character than whether or not you cut 10, 15, 20 billion dollars in any given fiscal year.”