What never? Well, hardly never

On September 18, President Obama told the Business Roundtable:

You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt used to extort a president of a governing party and trying to force issues that have nothing to do with the budget and nothing to do with the debt.

Obama was referring to Republican attempts to use the debt ceiling to gain leverage in the struggle over Obamacare.

Obamacare does, of course, have something to do with the debt. But that aside, is it true that past Congresses have never used the debt ceiling in order to get their way on non-budgetary issues?

No it is not true. Indeed, Obama’s assertion is so untrue that Glenn Kessler, the “Fact Checker” at the Washington Post gives it four Pinocchios.

It turns out that Congress has been doing what Obama says it has never done since 1973. That year, led by Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale, the Senate sought to make a campaign finance reform bill a condition of raising the debt ceiling.

After that, according to a study by Linda Kowalcky and Lance LeLoup, this practice became a pattern. Congress used the debt ceiling, or threats related thereto, to push for major changes in social security, an end to bombing in Cambodia, allowing prayer in public school, ending school busing to achieve integration, and so forth.

In the period from 1978 through 1987 alone, 25 non-germane amendments were added to debt ceiling legislation. Most of the amendments failed, but not all of them. In 1980, Congress used the debt ceiling to force Jimmy Carter to accept the repeal of an oil import fee that would have raised gas prices.

In any event, Obama’s statement was about attempts to use the debt ceiling for non-debt related purposes, not successes. His statement isn’t just mistaken, it is blatantly false.

Ignorance alone cannot explain Obama’s false statement. To be that far off-base, one must have a willful disregard for the truth.


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