Byron York
"You don't have to be a deficit hawk to be disturbed by the growing gap between revenues and expenses," said Sen. Barack Obama during a Nov. 3, 2005, debate on the Senate floor. At the time, Obama had been a senator for less than a year and the federal budget deficit was in fact shrinking, from $248 billion in fiscal 2006 to $160 billion in fiscal 2007. Still, Obama seemed deeply concerned about the deficit, and he appeared to believe it when he said the only way to close the shortfalls was to force Congress to pay for what it spends.

A few months later, on March 16, 2006, Obama returned to the same theme -- "You don't have to be a deficit hawk ..." -- in a sobering floor speech as the Senate considered whether to raise the nation's debt ceiling from $8.184 trillion to $8.965 trillion. "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure," Obama said. "It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies."

The deficit, Obama argued, handcuffed government in many ways. The money paid in interest on the debt was money that could not be spent on education, transportation, disaster relief or many other worthy causes. And borrowing so much from foreign countries meant America's economy would be "tied to the whims of foreign leaders" who might not wish the best for the United States.

"Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally," Obama concluded. "I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."

Obama made good on his promise. Joined by then-Sen. Joe Biden, Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid, Richard Durbin, Charles Schumer and indeed every other Democrat, Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling. Republicans, who controlled the Senate with a Republican in the White House, voted for the increase, which became law.

Later, as president, Obama admitted his '06 debt ceiling vote was a political maneuver. "That was just an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country," Obama told ABC in April 2011. "As president, you start realizing, 'You know what? We can't play around with this stuff.'"


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner