The federal government operates by borrowing funds through the issuance of Treasury bonds and other debt instruments of the U.S. Government. Congress periodically increases the total amount of those instruments that can be issued, which is known as the “national debt ceiling”. The Treasury Department advised Congress late in 2009 that it had issued the total amount of the then-current national debt ceiling, and that the government would no longer have the funds to operate after December 31, 2009 unless it could issue additional debt. That additional issuance of debt would require an increase in the national debt ceiling.
This was on final passage of the legislation that increased the national debt ceiling. The measure raised the ceiling by $290 billion, which was projected to be a sufficient amount to keep the government operating through early February of 2010.
Rep. Stark (D-CA) was leading support for the debt limit increase. He began his statement by noting that: “The Treasury Department has told us we will reach our current limit on the national debt on December 31--Happy New Year.” Stark acknowledged: “I don't like to raise the debt limit”, but noted: “Unlike past years, the Treasury Department has informed us they don't have the ability to maneuver and buy more time, so the United States would begin to default on its debt if we do not act.” Stark said: “It's important that we do this to keep the government running . . . (and) pay our bills because we have an international obligation to many of our creditors.”
Stark went on to say: “Unfortunately, we will have to revisit this issue early next year. I wish we could have avoided that, but to do so, we would have had to resolve differences with the Senate (which is) . . . preoccupied on other matters (including the health care bill and), that would be impossible before the holidays. Even if the Senate were to pass the larger debt limit increase we sent over to them, we would still have to act again next year.”
Rep. Neal (D-MA) also supported the debt limit increase. He claimed that the measure increasing the debt “is simply about continuing operations for the federal government . . . getting the Social Security checks out on time . . . providing support for our troops and keeping our museums and our parks open . . . this is about bills that have already been incurred . . . What this bill does not do is increase or decrease spending.”
Rep. Heller (R-NV), who was leading the opposition to the debt limit increase, began his statement by saying “here we go again. Christmas is a week away and . . . Americans are doing last-minute holiday shopping (while) the majority (Democratic) party is doing its last-minute spending. This year, many families are cutting back on their holiday shopping . . . You would think that during these tough times when most Americans are forced to tighten their belts, Congress would do the same. No chance under this majority. This majority stumbled into 2009 with a budget that raised the deficit by $1.8 trillion. Then Congress decided to pass an $800 billion stimulus bill, $3 billion on Cash for Clunkers, $1.3 trillion on the Democratic health care bill, a trillion dollars on cap-and-trade and, recently, another $447 billion was spent on Washington, D.C., bureaucrats. After all this spending, the national debt is now $12 trillion. Every American citizen will now owe more than $39,000 to pay for Washington's spending.”
Heller concluded his remarks by claiming: “Now Democrats want to raise the debt limit to allow even more spending in 2010. The real fat cat is the federal government which spends, spends, while the American public gets stuck with the bill. I urge my colleagues to reject raising the debt limit. Give the gift that America deserves: a responsible federal budget.”
The legislation passed by a vote of 218-214. All two hundred and eighteen “aye” votes were cast by Democrats, including a majority of the most progressive Members. Thirty-nine other Democrats joined all one hundred and seventy-five Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House approved and sent to the Senate legislation increasing the national debt ceiling to enable the government to continue operations through February of 2010.