Tea Party Hypocrisy on Debt Ceiling?

Jul 22, 2011 4:00pm

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf (@zbyronwolf) reports:

Some of the Republicans arguing most heartily against a compromise on a debt ceiling increase, targeting even members of their own party for seeking ways to increase the debt ceiling, are new to debt ceiling religion.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now a Tea Party activist, once argued in favor of increasing the debt ceiling on the House floor. Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican and Tea Party kingmaker, has about $3 trillion in debt ceiling increases under his belt. And Chris Chocola, leader of a group targeting moderate Republicans in primaries, supported raising the debt limit by about $2.5 trillion during his Congressional career.

All three have targeted Republicans they fear could compromise with Democrats on a possible debt deal.

Republicans aren’t the only ones to change positions on the debt ceiling. President Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator.

But these Republicans who supported debt ceiling increases when a Republican was in the White House and federal spending was on the rise, now oppose it when a Democrat is in the White House and spending is on the rise.

Armey, in particular, has done a lot of growing politically over the past decade. For starters, he left Congress, where he was the House majority leader. He’s become a sort of agent provocateur, trying to bring his party to the right. Where once he was at the top of official Washington, now he helps run the Tea Party group Freedom Works.

Along with Karl Rove, Armey has been at the forefront of now out-of-power Republicans arguing against raising the debt ceiling. He’s criticized those Republicans working with the White House and Democrats, and he’s called the failsafe plan of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a “premature retreat.”

“McConnell’s plan raises serious questions about whether Republicans are committed to pursuing the change Americans are demanding. His eagerness to cover Republicans politically without putting up much of a fight for real reform suggests business-as-usual is McConnell’s strategy of choice,” wrote Armey in a Fox News  Op-Ed.

It’s a far cry from what Armey said when he was in office and had the responsibility of raising the debt ceiling – something he did three times for a total of $1.5 trillion in debt increase during his career.

On the House floor in June 2002, Armey read a letter from the Concord Coalition on the House floor.

“The Senate has acted and now it is up to the House," he said. "Republicans and Democrats alike should put the nation's creditworthiness ahead of political considerations.

“There are times when every party must call upon their own rank and file, men and women of the cloth on the Democrat side of the aisle. Stand by your man. This is your opportunity. Do what is good for America,” Armey said in 2002.

Watch it here.

He was arguing for House consideration of a Senate bill that increased the debt ceiling by $450 billion. At the time, he was looking for Democratic votes – from the spending conscious Blue Dog coalition – in favor of raising the ceiling.

Armey is not the only Republican now taking a hard line who previously voted in favor of debt ceiling increases. The Club for Growth is an anti-tax organization that is targeting moderate Republicans like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, warning both against voting for a debt ceiling increase.

Club for Growth President Chris Chocola called the McConnell plan “selling out” and suggested his group would hold support for it against any Republican. The group is feared because it led primary challenges against Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania and it helped conservative candidates in Nevada and elsewhere.

But Chocola felt differently about  the debt ceiling when he was a Republican congressman from Indiana. He voted three times to increase the debt ceiling – by a total of $2.5 trillion – when George W. Bush was president.

One of those votes, in May 2003, was for a squirrelly way around actually voting for the debt ceiling increase. In a plan that was the brainchild of then-House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., members voted for a separate conference report and the debt ceiling increase – in that case nearly $1 trillion – was “deemed” to have passed.

“Very few legislators have perfect records,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller, explaining Chocola’s previous votes. “But runaway spending under President Bush and President Obama has put us in a situation where if we don’t fix Washington now, we’re never going to fix it.”

Keller said Chocola and the Club for Growth will continue to target Democrats and Republicans who they don’t think are working to shrink the size of government.

“If  you look back, the Club for Growth has been very aggressive at calling out both Republicans and Democrats when  they vote to increase spending,” he said.

Also “deeming” the debt ceiling to have passed was Sen. Jim DeMint, who called McConnell’s proposal a “cover-up” that would be like “leaving the door to the federal vault open and looking the other way.”

DeMint has supported nearly $3 trillion in debt ceiling increases during his Congressional career, favoring increasing the ceiling three times as a congressman and once as a senator.

Armey is not the only one to see the light on the debt ceiling. Mike Pence, who is running for governor of Indiana, has said he won’t vote for a debt ceiling increase that doesn’t institute steep spending cuts – "real and meaningful spending reform in the short term and long term."

And he said earlier this month that the president could still operate the country even after a default.

“The president would have the ability to provide for the common defense, to provide for all of our entitlements and pay the national debt with the $2.2 trillion that we’ve got coming in,” Pence said on Fox News July 12. 

Back in 2002, he felt differently when he voted to raise the debt ceiling.

“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,” Pence said on June 27, 2002, explaining his vote.

Update: A spokesman for Pence emailed to argue that comparing the comments from 2002 with the comments from 2011 is "like comparing apples and oranges because Pence has determined that after years of borrowing and spending and bailouts that we cannot keep raising the debt ceiling without real reform.”

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