It’s pretty obvious at this point that when it comes to the debt ceiling, Republican standards have recently changed quite a bit. GOP officials, for example, routinely voted to raise the limit — without threats or preconditions — as if the matter was just housekeeping, which it was. In a rather dramatic shift, the party is now using the process to hold the global economy hostage.

But that’s not the only standard that’s changed. Let’s look back at how the Republican-led Congress dealt with the debt-ceiling increase in 2003 — a year before George W. Bush would seek a second term.

Here’s an article the Washington Post ran in May 2003:

Just hours after passing one of the biggest tax cuts in history, the Senate approved an unprecedented increase of nearly $ 1 trillion in the statutory limit on government debt, prompting Democrats to try to embarrass Republicans by linking the two milestones.

The bill, approved 53-44, goes to the White House in time to be signed into law before the administration runs out of maneuvers to avoid the risk of another first-ever event: financial default by the U.S. government. […]

After the vote, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow hailed the Senate action, saying, “today’s action prevents uncertainty that would adversely impact our economic recovery.”

The key detail, however, is the duration of the extension Republicans approved in May 2003. Knowing that an election year was coming up, GOP lawmakers passed an 18-month extension, raising the debt limit to $7.4 trillion, long enough to make sure another increase wouldn’t be necessary until after the November 2004 elections.

This, Republicans said at the time, would reduce economic “uncertainty” — a concept GOP officials took very seriously up until about a month ago.

And who voted for this extension, covering the nation until after the next election cycle? In the House, Eric Cantor was one of 216 members to vote to raise the debt ceiling. In the Senate, 53 Republicans approved the same move, 20 of whom who are still in the chamber, including Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, John Cornyn, John McCain, Orrin Hatch, and Dick Lugar. In fact, every Republican senator who was serving then and still serving now voted for this increase to raise the limit beyond the 2004 race.

This week, however, Republican leaders — in many instances, literally the same individuals — are insisting that there be two separate votes, and accusing anyone who says otherwise of caring more about campaign politics than national stability.

So, here’s the question for these same GOP leaders: why is it, the year before Bush’s re-election, it was imperative to hold only one debt-ceiling vote, but now, it’s necessary to go through this twice?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.