Last week’s government funding deal approving spending limits for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 passed the House today and is expected to pass the Senate, setting the stage for the next big budgetary task in Congress: raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the U.S. will reach its legal borrowing limit around May 16th.
Several Republican members of Congress have taken the debt ceiling — and thus the credit worthiness of the United States — hostage for various demands. For instance, many Republicans say that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress approves a balanced budget amendment or agrees to cut Social Security benefits.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) said on Sunday, “I will not support an increase in the debt ceiling without real and meaningful changes in spending in the short-term and in the long-term.” However, back in 2002 Pence felt very differently about the debt ceiling. During a speech on the House floor, Pence said that the debt ceiling needs to be increased because failure to do so could threaten Social Security benefits. “I truly believe if you owe debts, pay debts,” Pence said:
PENCE: I rise today as a conservative Member of this institution, Mr. Speaker. I did not come here to increase the government’s debt. I came here believing, as so many people I represent believe, that if you owe debts, pay debts.
I spoke to an elderly woman on a radio program in Richmond, Indiana, today, in the heart of the heartland district that I represent. And Mr. Speaker, she said with fear in her voice that she was worried that a conservative like me would not support raising the debt ceiling and would put at risk her Social Security check. She assumed that my loathing of red ink would cause me to vote in such a way or fail to act in such a way that it would jeopardize her benefits and the benefits of people that she loves.
Well, I assured her then and I rise today to assure all those that are listening, Mr. Speaker, that I will not do that. I truly believe if you owe debts, pay debts.
Pence is far from the only Republican who once found raising the debt ceiling to be a noncontroversial task worthy of wide support, but now wants to extract concessions in return for doing it. It’s also worth noting that Senate Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling immediately after passing the budget-busting 2003 Bush tax cut.