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Posted by on Jul 13, 2011 in Politics | 5 comments

Worth Remembering: Republicans Usually Support Debt Ceiling Increases

Updated: Since 2009, after Barack Obama was inaugurated as President, Republican Senators have stood steadfastly against raising the debt ceiling: in 2009, two supported H.R. 1 and one supported H.R. 4314. None supported the 2010 vote on H.J. Res. 45.

But has this always been the case?

In January 2010, Donny Shaw calculated the vote tally since 1997 on bills that included provisions to raise the debt ceiling. It may surprise you. Or not, if you’re cynical.

Republican Senators : Votes On Raising Debt Ceiling

Votes On Raising Debt Ceiling : Republican Senators, 1997-2010

Although the trend away from almost unanimous support began in the Bush Administration, there was no serious defection of the GOP faithful until 2009.

Of course, the Democrats have been known to play partisan football with the debt ceiling also.

senate debt vote

Democrat and Republican Senators Voting "Yes" On Bills Raising Debt Ceiling

Update, 14 July

Update 3 : context, with specific information on the 2002, 2003 and 2004 votes from CRS (pdf) (emphasis added). Nine of the 74 changes since 1962 have been made since 2002; in other words, 12% of the changes have occurred in the past decade, during 20% of the time period.

Since March 1962, Congress has enacted 74 separate measures that have altered the limit on federal debt. Most of these changes in the debt limit were, measured in percentage terms, small in comparison to changes adopted in wartime or during the Great Depression. Some recent increases in the debt limit, however, were large in dollar terms. For instance, in May 2003, the debt limit increased by $984 billion.


The Senate leadership expressed strong reluctance to include a debt limit increase in the supplemental appropriation bill. Instead, on June 11 [2002], the Senate adopted a bill (S. 2578), without debate, to raise the debt limit by $450 billion to $6,400 billion. At that time, a $450 billion debt limit increase was thought to provide enough borrowing authority for government operations through the rest of calendar year 2002, if not through the summer of 2003. With the possibility of default looming over it, the House passed the $450 billion debt limit increase by a single vote on June 27. The President signed the bill into law on June 28 (P.L. 107-199, 116 Stat. 734), ending the 2002 debt limit crisis.27


The Senate received the debt-limit legislation on April 11 [2003], but did not act until May 23, after receiving further Treasury warnings of imminent default. On that day, debt subject to limit was $25 million (or 0.0004%) below the existing $6,400 billion limit. The Senate adopted the legislation, after rejecting eight amendments and sent it to the President, who signed it on May 27. This legislation raised the debt limit to $7,384 billion (P.L. 108-24, 117 Stat. 710).


After the elections, Senator Frist, on November 16, 2004, introduced legislation (S. 2986) to raise the debt limit by $800 billion, from $7,384 billion to $8,184 billion. The Senate approved the increase on November 17, 2004. The House considered and approved the increase on November 18. The President signed the legislation into law (P.L. 108-415, 118 Stat. 2337) on November 19, 2004. Estimates made at that time anticipated the new limit would be reached between August and December 2005.

Table 2. Increases in the Debt Limit Since January 2000 Date and Change From Previous Limit ($ billion)
June 28, 2002 $450
May 27, 2003 $984
Nov. 19, 2004 $800
Mar. 20, 2006 $781
Sept. 29, 2007 $850
July 30, 2008 $800
Oct. 3, 2008 $700
Feb. 17, 2009 $789
Dec. 28, 2009 $29

Between August 1997, when the debt limit was raised to $5,950 billion, and the beginning of FY2002 in October 2001, federal budget surpluses reduced debt held by the public. From the end of FY2001, the last fiscal year with a surplus, until the end of FY2008, debt held by the public subject to limit grew by $2,484 billion.

Here’s a spreadsheet showing every bill and debt ceiling increase since FDR. Does not contain votes.

If You’d Like To Help Source This Spreadsheet

Here’s the link – find the vote for each passage, record vote (Yea-Nay), Ds and Rs, provide URL.