White House press secretary Robert Gibbs defended then-Senator Barack Obama's 2006 vote against raising the debt ceiling on Wednesday - even as he urged current members of Congress not to "play politics" with the issue.
The debt ceiling is the legal limit on borrowing by the federal government. It currently stands at $14.3 trillion, a level that the government is expected to hit in the next few months.
Some Republicans have signaled that they will refuse to vote to raise the debt ceiling even if it means risking the United States effectively defaulting on its loans; were that to happen, U.S. Council of Economic Advisers chair Austan Goolsbee said Sunday, the "impact on the economy would be catastrophic."
"I don't see why anybody's playing chicken with the debt ceiling," Goolsbee said. "If we get to the point where we damage the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity."
Upon casting a vote against raising the debt ceiling in 2006, Mr. Obama said, in part: "America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better. I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America's debt limit."
Gibbs said at his daily briefing Wednesday that "it's important [to] understand that raising the debt limit was not in question" when Mr. Obama cast that vote -- essentially characterizing Mr. Obama's vote as a symbolic one.
As a reporter pointed out, the Senate in 2006 only passed the debt ceiling measure 52 to 48, a relatively close outcome. "Well, we've had closer," Gibbs quipped.
Insisting that "the full faith and credit of our government and our economy was not in doubt" in 2006, Gibbs said Mr. Obama had used to vote "to make a point about needing to get serious about fiscal discipline" and was "sending a message."
Today, however, "it's important for Congress...not to play politics with this, not to play games; to find a way to raise that debt limit," Gibbs said.
A reporter pressed the press secretary: So would it be acceptable for a member of Congress to cast their own vote against raising the debt ceiling in order to make a point - at least if that member expected the debt ceiling to be increased by his or her colleagues?
"There may be some that send a message," Gibbs responded. "But I think what is important is that the ultimate bottom line is we shouldn't upset the notion of that full faith and credit. We shouldn't, as some have rhetorically done leading up to this, suggest that that's a good way to deal with this, is simply for that -- to not pass that extension."
Incoming GOP House budget chief Rep. Paul Ryan has said he plans to demand spending concessions from the White House in exchange for GOP votes to raise the debt ceiling.