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Why the Debt Ceiling Debate is Different Now

Pete Wehner seems to be transitioning out of the highly crowded market of Chait-hating and instead carving out the more specialized niche of bashing kindly, beloved Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne. Today Wehner accuses Dionne of hypocrisy -- he has decried the Republicans for their willingness to play chicken with the debt ceiling, but didn't bash Democrats for doing the same in 2006:

Do you recall the column by Dionne excoriating Obama and other Democrats for voting against raising the debt ceiling during the Bush presidency? That’s funny; neither do I. Which tells you much of what you need to know about Dionne these days.

It's certainly true that Democrats postured against the debt ceiling in 2006. But I suspect one reason you didn't see Dionne, or anybody, assailing them for it was that nobody actually believed that the debt ceiling might not be raised, or even that we'd come close enough to start experiencing financial consequences. Wehner makes his point by pulling the old quote switcheroo, telling us an anti-debt ceiling quote is from Marco Rubio today but then pulling the big reveal that it's really from Obama in 2006. Here's the Obama quote:

The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that “the buck stops here.” Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.

Meanwhile, here's what Rubio has actually written:

I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

See the difference there? The first quote is the kind of empty posturing that the debt ceiling debt used to consist of. The second is an almost comically-extensive ransom list. Republicans today are demanding substantive policy concessions in order to raise the debt ceiling, something that has never happened before. That has created, for the first time, the serious risk of debt default, and which makes the ritual far more dangerous than before.