As surely as the return of fall brings "pumpkin"-flavored swill to bars and cafes, the return of the debt limit controversy brings back a hit on Barack Obama. In 2006, as a freshman senator considering a presidential bid, Obama voted against raising the debt limit. So did every Democrat in the Senate, after their amendment to a bill increasing the limit was defeated. (At that time, Republicans controlled 55 Senate seats.)
This fact was brought up to me on Up With Steve Kornacki yesterday, when I slung punditry across from former Rep. Tom Davis; it is brought up again today by National Review's Jim Geraghty, who asks readers breathlessly, "Can you believe there are U.S. senators who are openly touting that they’ll oppose raising the debt limit?" Geraghty goes on to repeat Obama's quote that the 2006 debt limit hike represented "a failure of leadership."
We already learned all this in 2011, when many, many news outlets reported on Obama's 2006 vote and quoted Jay Carney sheepishly insisting that Obama regretted it. Republicans have tattooed these facts on their eyelids, to be deployed whenever they're accused of being unreasonable. Just as relevant (i.e., not very relevant) is the behavior of the current speaker of the House, majority leader, and majority whip—all Republicans who now demand concessions on the debt limit.
They voted to increase the debt limit in 2006 without demanding anything.
It's an easily forgotten fact, and it was designed that way. In 2005 the Republican-controlled House voted to increase the debt limit in a way that minimized the political pressure for all involved. Let the Congressional Research Service explain:
The adoption of the conference report on the FY2006 budget resolution in late April 2005 also triggered the Gephardt rule (House Rule XXVII), producing a House Joint Resolution (H.J.Res. 47) that also would raise the debt limit by $781 billion to $8.965 trillion. Under the rule, the resolution was automatically deemed passed by the House and sent to the Senate.
By agreeing that the debt limit was automatically increased, the GOP-run House prevented any negotiations or wrangling or recorded votes. John Boehner et al. were complicit in this; as Republicans discovered in 2010, when the House considered deeming the Affordable Care Act passed, it's easy to raise a hue and cry and stop this tactic. So, the next time someone yawns and resurrects the ol' "Barack Obama once opposed a debt limit increase!" talking point, yawn and bring up this.