Hoyer joins Obama in calling past vote on debt ceiling 'a mistake'

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has joined President Obama in conceding that he blundered by voting against an increase to the government’s debt ceiling. 

“I have voted against the debt limit in the past. That was a mistake,” Hoyer (Md.), the second-ranking House Democrat, said in an unprompted admission to reporters on Tuesday.

His comment came two days after White House adviser David Plouffe said Obama made a mistake by voting against raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator.

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Democrats are urging Republicans not to jeopardize the economy and the full faith and credit of the nation with talk of voting against raising the $14 trillion debt ceiling before the borrowing limit is reached in July. But the Democrats' own votes against raising that ceiling during George W. Bush’s presidency are coming back to haunt them.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who voted against raising the ceiling in 2007, for “flip-flopping” on the issue when she called Republicans “profoundly irresponsible” for threatening to do the same thing.

Hoyer said he voted with other Democrats against lifting the debt ceiling when Republicans were in the majority to protest what he said were irresponsible GOP fiscal policies, such as tax cuts for the wealthy.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Reid has previously stated that he “believes he should have voted differently.”

Other Democratic senators stopped short of declaring their previous votes a mistake. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) voted against the debt-limit increase in 2006 “to demand a course correction from the Bush fiscal policies that had turned record budget surpluses into record deficits with no end in sight,” Kerry spokeswoman Whitney Smith said. “He'll cast this upcoming vote after considering the best way to influence our economic direction and after seeing what's attached to the bill.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also defended his earlier vote. 

“Sen. Lieberman stands by that vote because he believed the [Bush administration] failed to demonstrate that they were going to take serious steps to reduce the national debt which today threatens our economic future,” spokesman Jeremy Kilpatrick said. “The 2006 vote was the fourth time the debt ceiling was raised during the Bush administration.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) did not respond to requests for comment.

Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) said through a spokeswoman: “My vote was in protest of Bush’s unwise and obscene tax cuts. The circumstances today are entirely different.”

Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling as an Illinois senator in 2006.

Democrats and Republicans are girding for a pitched battle over the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department says must be lifted by July to avoid a first-ever default by the federal government. A default, administration officials say, would be “catastrophic” for the U.S. economy.

Republicans have said any bill to raise the debt limit must be paired with significant spending cuts or structural fiscal reform — a warning that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) repeated on Tuesday.

“Let me give notice to the White House that blindly raising the debt limit without implementing real reforms is irresponsible and will simply burden our children with more debt. We Republicans are not going to go along with it,” he told reporters at his weekly press briefing. 

Cantor later added: “We’re only, only talking about even doing this if we can be assured there are guarantees in place that the spending doesn’t get out of control again.”

The Treasury Department has said the U.S. would hit its current debt ceiling around May 16 but that it could stave off a default until July 8. Cantor indicated that the vote would occur “over the next several months” and that the GOP considered the July date its deadline to act.

Hoyer on Tuesday called the debt-limit fight “the next hostage event” and pointed out that pairing the measure with other items would be a violation of the GOP pledge to separate controversial issues into separate pieces of legislation.

“They said, and [Speaker John] Boehner [R-Ohio] has said, that he would keep separate divisive issues from important bills and he would take them up individually,” Hoyer said. “That is what ought to be done here. The full faith and credit of the United States of America ought not to be held hostage.”

In their Pledge to America, Republican leaders promised to “end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with ‘must-pass’ legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time.”

Asked about Hoyer’s comment, Cantor instead referred to a separate rule change that Republicans instituted requiring a direct up-or-down vote on the debt limit rather than “hiding” that vote in a procedural maneuver, as had been allowed before.

“We’re going to be transparent. We’re going to be accountable,” Cantor said. “That’s what an up-or-down debt-limit vote is.”

A spokeswoman for Cantor, Laena Fallon, said in response to Hoyer that the spending reforms Republicans would pair with a debt-limit increase “are germane, not unpopular.”

Ramsey Cox contributed.