The difference between posturing and destroying

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN POSTURING AND DESTROYING…. In March 2006, the Republican-led Senate took the rather routine step on increasing the federal debt limit. It passed 52 to 48, nearly along party lines, with every Democrat voting against it, and just about every Republican voting for it.

But in 2006, that Democratic caucus included a member who now happens to be president, and this has generated some fair questions this week.

On Sunday, President Obama’s top economic adviser, Council of Economic Advisers chair Austan Goolsbee, cautioned members of Congress not to “play chicken” by voting against raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling — despite the fact that as a senator in 2006, President Obama voted that way.

“I don’t see why anybody’s talking about playing chicken with the debt ceiling,” Goolsbee told me on ABC News’ THIS WEEK. “If we get to the point where you’ve damaged the full faith and credit of the United States, that would be the first default in history caused purely by insanity.”

Goolsbee said a failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause “a worse financial economic crisis than anything we saw in 2008…. This is not a game. The debt ceiling is not something to toy with.”

Four year ago, however, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., voted the exact way President Obama is now cautioning senators not to do.

That’s true. In 2006, Republicans had abandoned any pretense of fiscal sanity, and were throwing everything they could — wars, Medicare expansion, tax cuts, No Child Left Behind — on the national charge card for future generations to worry about. Indeed, Republicans had turned one of the largest surpluses in American history, bequeathed by President Clinton in 2001, into one of the largest deficits in American history. It prompted the entire Democratic Senate caucus in 2006 to vote “no” in protest.

But the context matters here. When pressed on this yesterday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reminded reporters that the raising of the debt limit at the time “was not in question” and “the outcome” was already clear. “The full faith and credit of our government and our economy was not in doubt,” Gibbs added.

And he’s right. In 2006, Dems, including Obama, weren’t holding the government hostage; they weren’t making outrageous demands; and they weren’t putting anyone at risk. They made a symbolic vote as a form of protest,and wouldn’t have hesitated to vote the other way if the full faith and credit of the United States government was actually at risk. It wasn’t.

The circumstances in 2011 are very different, and we now have a wide range of right-wing lawmakers who aren’t just hoping to “send a message,” but rather, are prepared to cause the country to default and create catastrophic economic conditions. At the same time, they’re suggesting they might go along with a debt-level increase, if Dems give in to ridiculous demands on entitlements.

To equate these tactics with the ’06 vote is a mistake. There’s a difference between political posturing and deliberate destruction.