This claim emerged in 2023 against a background of partisan bickering over a budget bill submitted by Republicans that included major spending cuts as a precondition for raising the debt ceiling in time to prevent the U.S. federal government from defaulting on its debts. During former U.S. President Donald Trump's presidency, Congress raised the debt limit with bipartisan support and no budget-cut preconditions on three occasions — in 2017, 2018, and 2019 — although the 2019 budget bill did require a commitment to $77 billion in administrative "offsets" to partially make up for sharp increases in defense and domestic spending.
On April 26, 2023, the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Republicans, narrowly passed budget legislation raising the federal government's legal debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion on the condition that deep spending cuts would also be undertaken. Democrats balked at the spending-cuts requirement, demanding instead the passage of what they called a "clean bill" without preconditions to raise the debt ceiling before the deadline of June 1, when the government would default on its debts.
Some Democrats, notably U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., claimed that by demanding budget cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, Republicans were "creating an economic crisis" and "threatening default" for partisan gain. No such demands were made during the administration of former President Donald Trump, Omar argued in a May tweet: "Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling 3 times when Donald Trump was President, with no preconditions."
(Image Via @IlhanMN/Twitter)
What exactly is the debt ceiling? This is how the U.S. Department of the Treasury defines it (emphasis added):
The debt ceiling, or debt limit, is a restriction imposed by Congress on the amount of outstanding national debt that the federal government can have. The debt ceiling is the amount that the Treasury can borrow to pay the bills that have become due and pay for future investments. Once the debt ceiling is reached, the federal government cannot increase the amount of outstanding debt, losing the ability to pay bills and fund programs and services.
Since 1960, Congress has acted 78 separate times to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic presidents.
It is true that during the Trump administration, legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default was passed three times with varying degrees of bipartisan support, according to Bipartisan Policy Center:
(Image Via Bipartisan Policy Center)
In 2017, 2018, and 2019, the debt limit was reset at $20.5 trillion, $22 trillion and $28.4 trillion, respectively. None of these bills, when signed into law, contained a precondition to cut spending, despite the wishes of some Republicans.
It should be noted, though, that the 2019 legislation, which included hefty spending increases for defense and domestic programs, did mandate $77 billion in "offsets" for those spending increases. According to Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa., the $77 billion in offsets would be achieved in two ways: 1) "$15.5 billion from extending the expiration date of customs user fees" from May 26, 2027, to Sept. 30, 2029, and 2) $61.7 billion from "extending mandatory spending sequester" (described by the Congressional Budget Office as "automatic spending cuts that occur through the withdrawal of funding for certain —but not all — government programs") from Sept. 30, 2027, to Sept. 30, 2029. These administrative offsets were described by some as "cosmetic."
By contrast, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's "Limit, Save, Grow Act" of 2023, as passed by the House, would require broad-based spending cuts totaling $4.5 trillion, according to CBS News. As of this writing, Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden had said he would refuse to sign the act into law, and it was said to be "dead on arrival" in the Democratic-controlled Senate.