House Dems: Debt Limit Should Be Off the Table

By Elizabeth Harrington | December 5, 2012 | 3:01pm EST

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (AP Photo)

( – The House Democratic leadership said Wednesday that the debt ceiling “ought not be a negotiating item” in Congress, thereby ceding their constitutional authority to borrow money to President Barack Obama.

“The debt limit ought not to be held hostage to anything,” said Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) during a press conference on Capitol Hill. “It hurt our economy. We were downgraded for the first time in my career, and I think in history, by one of the rating agencies.

“The credit worthiness of America ought not to be put at risk,” he said. “It ought not to be a negotiating item.”

The current debt limit stands at $16.394 trillion, which the Treasury Department expects to be met before the end of the year. As of the close of business Monday, the public debt reached $16.338 trillion, leaving less than $60 billion before the ceiling is met.

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In the fiscal cliff negotiations, President Obama asked for the power to permanently and unilaterally lift the debt limit without the approval of Congress.

“First of all of course the president wants it part of the agreement so that we do not harm the economy, harm the creation of jobs and harm working Americans and America’s credit worthiness by making that part of the debate,” Hoyer said. “It ought not be part of the debate.”

Hoyer agrees with the president’s proposal that would give him permanent unilateral authority to raise the debt ceiling unless overridden by two-thirds of the Congress, which he offered via Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in fiscal cliff negotiations with House and Senate leaders last week.

“I think the president is absolutely right,” Hoyer said in a pen and pad briefing on Friday.  “We ought not to play this game of debt limit extension. Both parties have been responsible and participated in this game.

“When the other party was in charge, whether it was a Democratic Party or a Republican Party, with the other party in charge of the White House we tended to demagogue on the debt limit,” Hoyer said. “I think that's unfortunate.

“President Obama is saying we ought to stop playing that, because it hurt our economy very substantially when we did so in the summer of 2011,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also endorsed the president’s plan last week saying the debt limit should be out of the hands of Congress. 

The Constitution expressly gives the power to borrow money to Congress – not the president. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 2 says: "Congress shall have power ... To borrow money on the credit of the United States."

The debt ceiling was last raised on Aug. 2, 2011 when Congress and the president agreed to the Budget Control Act, which increased the borrowing limit by $2.4 trillion, and set in motion $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts to defense and discretionary spending. 

Standard and Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating just three days later on Aug. 5 from AAA to AA+, saying that the legislation “falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.”

Prior to the downgrade, John Chambers, chairman of S&P's sovereign ratings committee, said $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years would be a good start and "would signal the seriousness of policymakers to address the fiscal position of the United States."

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