White House and congressional negotiators are currently in the process of striking a deficit reduction deal, as most Republicans in Congress are refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling without deep cuts to public investments and social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare. By doing so, these Republicans are essentially holding the country hostage, threatening the United States with default unless Democrats agree to these cuts.
Yet these Republicans were not always demanding hostages in exchange for allowing the country to pay its own bills. In November of 2004, Congress voted in both the House and Senate to hike the US debt limit by $800 billion, which raised the total ceiling to $8.1 trillion.
A ThinkProgress review of the votes in both the House and Senate finds that a whopping 130 congressional Republicans voted to hike the debt ceiling that November that remain in the US Congress today (either in their same seats or by coming to the Senate). These members of Congress did not demand draconian cuts in public investment that would've driven up unemployment and threatened the economy in return.
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Of course, there was one other difference between then and today. President George W. Bush was in the White House, and Republicans did not have an incentive to try to politically damage him by holding the debt ceiling hostage. In 2002, during another hike in the nation's debt limit under Bush, his press secretary Ari Fleischer said it was important to raise the debt ceiling because it was not the time “to engage in activites that could in any way raise questions about the full faith and credit of the United States”:
MR. FLEISCHER: The Senate passed, 68-29, a clean increase in the debt limit. The President praises the Senate's action. The debt limit is a very important issue. This is not the time to play any — this is not the time to engage in any activities that could in any way raise questions about the full faith and credit of the United States. And the President urges the House to follow the Senate's action on this matter.
These votes also prove that these Republicans, when faced with the default of their country, are willing to vote to raise the debt ceiling; this indicates that it is perhaps unneccesary to strike any sort of deficit reduction deal at all to win their votes. If Republicans and Democrats want to strike a grand bargain on deficit reduction, they can certainly do that in the context of the budget appropriations process rather than holding the debt limit hostage.