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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan July 29, 2011

Allen West says spending cuts are part of a debt ceiling increase for the first time in history

U.S. Rep. Allen West supports Speaker John Boehner's plan for cutting spending and raising the debt ceiling, even though some of his fellow tea party supporters have been skeptical. 

On July 27, 2011, he appeared on CNN to defend the plan.

"We can sit around and try to come up with the 100 percent plan, and this plan definitely is not it," said West, R-Plantation. I'll give it about a 70 to 75 percent rating. But it is a plan that I can take and I can execute to 100 percent. I think the most important thing when I look at this, it still does fit within the framework that I'll support of cut, cap and balance," he said.

"So I'm very pleased that I can stand to support this because we don't have the tax hikes that I don't want to see happen, and we don't have the complete blank check that's going to be given to the president of $2.4 trillion. This is the first time in the history that we've had the raising of a debt limit also with spending cuts," he added.

We should point out that raising the debt limit does not give the president "a blank check." Congress still retains its usual power to approve or deny spending. We looked at a similar statement from Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, and rated it False. 

Here, we were interested in West's point that this was the first time a debt ceiling vote had ever been paired with spending cuts. Was this year's debt proposal that historic?

In a word, no.

We spent a long time mulling the details of federal legislation over the past 30 or so years. We found a few different examples that contradict West's statement.

The most recent example of legislation to raise the debt ceiling that also included spending cuts was the 1997 agreement between President Bill Clinton and House Republicans led by Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 included net reductions in direct spending of $122 billion over five years and increased the debt limit to $5.95 trillion, from $5.5 trillion, according to a 2005 analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. 

The deal included spending cuts, tax cuts and new spending on social programs supported by Clinton. At the time, the agreement was expected to lead to a balanced budget by 2002. In fact, the budget went into surplus in 1998. (Keep in mind that there was still substantial public debt at this point, but at least the government wasn't spending more than it took in during a given year.)

News coverage from the 1997 deal depicted it as a great victory for the Republicans, though one with bipartisan support. Here's how USA Today's story began on July 31, 1997: 

"The Republican-led House of Representatives, savoring the afterglow of a successful engagement with a Democratic president, voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a spending plan that should balance the federal budget by 2002.

"The measure sailed through the House by a lopsided 346-85 vote on a wave of bipartisan self-congratulation, standing ovations and paeans to the promise of protecting generations to come.

"Speaker Newt Gingrich, who in past years has conceded being outmaneuvered by President Clinton on the budget, triumphantly announced the vote. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, strode onto the House floor clapping his hands in anticipation of leading the Senate debate to a similar conclusion today."

After the debt ceiling was raised in 1997, it wasn't raised again until the George W. Bush administration in 2002. The debt ceiling was raised seven times during the Bush administration, and it's been raised three times already during the Obama administration.

We found two other examples of budget agreements that included automatic mechanisms to cut spending. 

The 1990 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act set caps to cut discretionary spending along with new pay-you-go rules, and that too included a debt ceiling increase. The Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act of 1985 set strict deficit targets and automatic spending cuts if the yearly deficit targets were breached. Lawmakers knew that the automatic spending cuts were virtually certain to take effect, and they did. 

"The debt ceiling has been used numerous times in the past to enact both budget enforcement procedures and actual spending cuts, often to make debt ceiling increases more politically palatable," said Jason Peuquet, a policy analyst with the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

As we finished our research, we wondered if West meant whether it was the first time the spending cuts had equaled the increase in the debt ceiling. The 1997 agreement would not meet that criteria. Even if that's what he meant, that's not how West phrased his statement on CNN.

West said, "This is the first time in the history that we've had the raising of a debt limit also with spending cuts." We found that the 1997 budget agreement raised the debt ceiling and also included spending cuts. So we rate his statement False. 

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

CNN, interview with Allen West, July 27, 2011

Congressional Research Service, via OpenCRS, The Budget Reconciliation Process: House and Senate Procedures, Aug. 10, 2005

THOMAS, The Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Sept. 9, 1997

Congressional Research Service, "The Debt Limit: History and Recent Increases," July 1, 2011

Keith Hennessy, The 1997 Bipartisan Budget Agreement cut spending and cut taxes, July 9, 2011, The Budget and Deficit Under Clinton, Feb. 11, 2008

Roll Call, A look back: Debt ceiling debate then and now, June 14, 2011

CNN, President Clinton announces another record budget surplus, Sept. 27, 2000

Interview with Richard Kogan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 28, 2011

E-mail interview with Jason Peuquet of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, July 28, 2011

E-mail interview with J.D. Foster of the Heritage Foundation, July 28, 2011

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Allen West says spending cuts are part of a debt ceiling increase for the first time in history

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