House liberals keep with Reagan example on debt limit

House Democrats think they have a political winner using Ronald Reagan's example in the debt-ceiling debate.

In a letter going out Wednesday to all House Republicans, leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) are highlighting Reagan's decades-old warnings that a failure to raise the debt limit would have devastating — if unknown — economic consequences.

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The former president — though often invoked by conservatives as a symbol of fiscal rectitude — increased the national debt by nearly 200 percent during his White House tenure, requiring him to hike the debt ceiling 17 times.

"President Reagan was a staunch conservative whose views sharply differ from Progressives’ in nearly every respect," the liberal Democrats wrote. "Yet, Reagan understood that the American people have invested their trust in our ability to be wise stewards."

The letter is being spearheaded by CPC Chairmen Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), as well as Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who heads the CPC budget taskforce.

They are spotlighting a 1983 letter from Reagan to then-Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R), in which the president urges Congress to raise the debt limit for the sake of the global economy.

"The Treasury's cash balances have reached a dangerously low point. Henceforth, the Treasury Department cannot guarantee that the federal government will have sufficient cash on any one day to meet all of its mandated expenses," Reagan wrote nearly three decades ago.

"The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate.

"Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets," Reagan added. "The nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

On Tuesday, House Democratic leaders shopped around a 1987 plea from Reagan urging Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

The Democrats' strategy arrives as many conservative lawmakers are balking at the notion of raising the nation's $14.3 trillion debt cap.

Treasury officials have warned that, without congressional action, the government would begin defaulting on its obligations after Aug. 2.

GOP leaders in both chambers support the debt-ceiling hike, but many rank-and-file Republicans are pushing back.

The GOP opposition is entrenched enough in the House that Republican leaders are expected to need scores of Democratic votes to pass a debt-ceiling hike through the lower chamber.