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Trump Not the First to Play Politics With National Debt

Obama, Ryan among those to have voted against debt limit increases

Donald Trump's recent comments about possibly renegotiating the national debt have raised eyebrows. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Donald Trump's recent comments about possibly renegotiating the national debt have raised eyebrows. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Donald Trump is getting heat for saying he might take steps as president that would put the full faith and credit of the United States in jeopardy.  

“People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt, and I mean, these people are crazy. This is the United States government,” Trump clarified Monday on CNN . “You never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK?”  

Trump, the business mogul and presumptive Republican presidential nominee, set off alarm bells on Thursday in an interview on CNBC when he suggested he could reduce the national debt by negotiating a better deal with the nation’s creditors. His remarks also raised questions about the stability of U.S. government bonds.  

“I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal, and if the economy was good, it was good, so, therefore, you can’t lose,” said Trump .  

The comments about possibly renegotiating federal debt raised eyebrows, but leaders from President Barack Obama to Speaker Paul D. Ryan have at times opposed debt limit increases, even if that opposition has been largely over politics.  

“I think that it’s important to understand the vantage point of a senator versus the vantage point of a president,” Obama said in a 2011 ABC interview . “When you’re a senator, traditionally what’s happened is this is always a lousy vote. Nobody likes to be tagged as having increased the debt limit for the United States by a trillion dollars or a trillion and a half, whatever the number is.”  

Obama was willingly admitting  that his 2006 opposition, as a freshman senator, to raising the debt ceiling was a political calculation. When the time came for action on increased borrowing authority during his presidency, Obama reversed course and strongly supported the measure.  

That was true in February 2014, during a debate on a “clean” debt limit increase that played out with plenty of interesting theatrics in the House and the Senate.  

Current Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the Budget Committee chairman at the time, was among the Republicans voting against the measure, which passed narrowly, 221-201 .  

The Senate chamber was the site of the real palace intrigue. The clerk’s microphone was inexplicably turned off during the roll call vote, prompting a protest from media representatives.  

It became clear after reviewing the official vote tally that a half dozen Republican senators had switched their votes during the chaos on the floor, allowing the measure to clear the 60-vote hurdle that was required for the debt limit increase to advance.  

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who was one of the last men standing against Trump in the fight for the GOP presidential nomination, recalled the 2014 debt limit standoff in an interview with Roll Call last August, as he was gearing up for his own campaign.

Contact Lesniewski at and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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